Should You Conduct Background Checks on Job Applicants?

Should You Conduct Background Checks on Job Applicants?


BenefitMall offers a full range of extra services that go beyond simple payroll and human resource management. Among them is our employee background screening solution. By conducting background checks on job applicants, we offer clients peace of mind when making hiring decisions. Our background checks include drug and alcohol testing, employment verification, and criminal records.

Should you be conducting background checks on job applicants? That's entirely up to you. There are no specific guidelines that determine whether or not an employer should conduct a background check. We can say that background checks in certain industries are a very good idea. For example, any industry in which employees could be put in compromising positions with clients or the public would indicate the need for background checks.


Background Checks are Legally Allowed

Federal laws regarding background checks for job applicants are pretty clear-cut. Except for medical records and certain kinds of genetic information, employers are legally allowed to seek background information. They can look into work history, education, financial history, criminal activity and even social media use, for the purposes of making hiring decisions.

Be that as it may, there is one catch: employees cannot use the information gleaned from background checks to practice discriminatory hiring. In other words, employers must treat every job applicant fairly and equally. Discrimination is never allowed based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious practice, disability, or age.


Requirements for Employers

Employers choosing to conduct background checks are restricted by very specific rules. Those rules are laid out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Employer requirements relating to background checks are as follows:

  • Avoid Medical/Genetic Information – There are only a small number of exceptions that allow employers to seek out medical and genetic information. Therefore, employers should avoid seeking out such information altogether.
  • Applicant Permission – Employers are required to obtain the written permission of any job applicant before running a background check. If an applicant refuses to give such permission, the employer can withdraw that person from consideration.
  • Full Disclosure – Employers are also required to provide full disclosure of the background information they are seeking. Formal notice must be given in writing, and that notice must be a standalone document that clearly defines the kinds of information that will be requested and how it might be used to make a hiring decision.
  • Investigative Reports – In cases where an employer will be seeking an investigative report from a previous employer, the applicant must be notified of the employer's intent and informed of his or her right to get a description of the nature and scope of that investigation.
  • Record Retention – Any records resulting from conducting background checks must be retained for at least one year from the date those records are created. At such time as the company decides to dispose of such records, they must be disposed of securely.


There are some laws relating to background checks that vary from state to state. For example, some states allow employers to look into credit histories and scores as part of the hiring process. However, employers are not allowed to base hiring decisions solely on that information. Employers should check with state authorities to learn if there are any additional regulations in place governing the use of background checks.

If you deem background checks necessary before making hiring decisions, please use those checks wisely and in accordance with the law. Feeling unsure? BenefitMall can help streamline the entire process. Find out more here.