The seven most common employer concerns about background checks

By Les Rosen, Employment Screening Resources

Even with all of the advantages of a screening program, many employers still have questions and concerns about implementing background checks.  These are the seven most commons concerns that employers express:

Is it legal?
Employers have an absolute right to conduct lawful pre-employment screening in order to hire the best-qualified candidates. A federal law called the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) balances the right of employers to know whom they hire with an applicant’s right of disclosure and privacy. Under that law, the employer first obtains the applicant’s written consent to be screened. In the event negative information is found, the applicant must be given the opportunity to correct the record. Employers should set up a consistent policy so similarly situated applicants are treated the same. In addition, criminal records should not be used to disqulaify an appliucant automatically.  A qualified screening company will assist an employer with legal compliance issues.

Does it invade privacy? 
No. Employers can find out about only those things that an applicant has done in his “public” life. For example, checking court records for criminal convictions or calling past employers or schools does not invade a zone of personal privacy. Employers are looking only at information that is a valid and non-discriminatory predictor of future job performance. To maintain privacy, many background firms have Internet systems with secured Web sites. Employers should also take steps to maintain confidentially within their organization.

Is it cost-effective? 
A pre-employment screening will typically cost less than the cost of a new employee on his or her first day on the job. That’s pocket change compared to the damage one bad hire can cause. In addition, employers typically only screen an applicant if a decision has been made to extend an offer, and not all applicants. It is ironic that some firms will spend hours shopping for a computer bargain and at the same time try to save money by not adequately checking out a job applicant, which represents an enormous investment. The bottom line is that problem employees usually cause employee problems, and money is well spent to avoid problems in the first place.

Does it discourage good applicants?
Employers who engage in screening do not find that good applicants are deterred. Job applicants have a desire to work with qualified and safe co-workers in a profitable environment. A good candidate understands that background screening is a sound business practice that helps a firm’s bottom line and is not an invasion of privacy or an intrusion. 

Does it delay hiring? 
No. Background screening is normally done in just 48 to 72 hours. Most of the information needed is not stored in databases but must be obtained by going to courthouses or calling up past employers or schools. Occasionally there can be delays that are out of anyone’s control, such as previous employers who will not return calls, schools that are closed for vacation, or a court clerk who needs to retrieve a record from storage.

Is it difficult to implement? 
For an overburdened HR, security, or risk-management department already handling numerous tasks, outsourcing background screening can be done very quickly and effectively. A qualified pre-employment screening firm can set up the entire program and provide all the necessary forms in a short period of time. Many firms have Internet-based systems that speed up the flow of information and allow an employer to track the progress of each applicant in real time.

How do we select a service provider?
An employer should look for a professional partner, not just an information vendor selling data at the lowest price. An employer should apply the same criteria that it would use in selecting any other provider of critical professional services. For example, if a employer were choosing a law firm for legal representation, it would not select the cheapest–it would clearly want to know it is selecting a firm that is competent, experienced, and knowledgeable, as well as reputable and reasonably priced. The same criteria should also apply to critical HR services. A screening firm should have an understanding of the legal implications of background checks, particularly the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. 

Both employers and applicants have learned that pre-employment screening is an absolute necessity in today’s business world. More importantly, they’ve learned due diligence in hiring is a way to keep firms safe and profitable in these difficult times.