These ten critical areas need to be addressed in every application as part of a Safe Hiring Program:

  1. The application needs to clearly state that there will be a background check or a background check will be performed. A well-worded application form discourages applicants with something to hide, and encourages applicants to be open and honest.
  2. There should be the broadest possible language allowed by the laws of your state asking about convictions and pending criminal cases.
  3. An application should state that “untruthfulness or material omissions are grounds to terminate the hiring process or employment, no matter when discovered.” This is critical for example when an applicant is not truthful about a criminal conviction.
  4. The form should clarify that “a criminal conviction is not automatic grounds for rejection.” It could be a form of discrimination to automatically reject an applicant because of a criminal record. The keyword is “automatically.” Without the statement that there is no automatic rejection, an applicant may be deterred from applying in the first place out of fear of being automatically rejected upon honestly answering the question. The chilling effect on an applicant could be a form of discrimination in itself, which is why this additional language is necessary. Conversely, if a person has lied about a criminal violation, then dishonesty may become the basis for disqualification.
  5. The application form should indicate the applicant consents to “pre-employment background screening, including verifying educational and professional credentials, past employment and court records.” Such a release may discourage an applicant with something to hide, or encourage an applicant to be forthcoming in an interview. If an employer uses an outside service to perform a pre-employment screening, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires there must be a consent and a standalone disclosure form separate from the application.
  6. The consent portion on any release form used for a background check should indicate the release is “valid for future screening for retention, promotion or reassignment (unless revoked in writing).”
  7. The application form must ask for ALL employment for the past 5-10 years. This is critical. A standardized application form makes it easier to spot unexplained gaps in employment. That is an important step in the hiring process and a critical part of exercising due diligence. Even if an employer hires a background company to perform a pre-employment criminal check, records can be missed because there is no national criminal record resource available for use by private employers. Criminal checks must be done in each county where the applicant has lived, worked or attended school. If a person has an uninterrupted job history, an employer may have more confidence that the applicant has not been in serious trouble over the years.
  8. The form should indicate that all educational accomplishment the applicant wishes the employer to consider should be listed. This covers an employer in a situation where an applicant was not honest about their educational accomplishments, but a degree is not part of the job description. The lack of honesty can be the basis for an employer to take action regardless of the listed job qualifications.
  9. The form should allow the applicant to indicate whether the current employer may be contacted for a reference.
  10. Finally, an employer can cover other standard matters. Examples include: the organization’s “at will” policy; the employer is “a non-discriminatory employer”; uses mandatory arbitration in disputes; and requires that applicants provide original documents to verify their identity and right to work in the United States.

Reprinted from The Safe Hiring Manual by ESR President, Lester S. Rosen (2004)