By Thomas Ahearn, ESR Staff Writer

A series of recent surveys from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reveals that when it comes to reference background checks and criminal background checks, approximately three out of four U.S. businesses perform these two types of background checks as part of their pre-employment screening programs.

According to surveys conducted in November and December of 2009 and comprised from a sample of over 400 randomly selected Human Resources professionals from SHRM’s membership, 76 percent of organizations conducted reference background checks for all job candidates, while 73 percent of organizations conducted criminal background checks for all job candidates by reviewing consumer reports of candidates.

Surprisingly, despite recent controversy surrounding the use of credit background checks in pre-employment screening, the survey found that only 13 percent of organizations performed credit background checks on all candidates, while 40 percent did not conduct any credit background checks and 47 percent performed them on selected job candidates.

As for which job categories that organizations chose to conduct background checks on, the survey revealed candidates for positions with fiduciary and financial responsibility (handling cash, banking, and accounting) led in both credit background checks (91 percent) and criminal background checks (78 percent), while 76% of job candidates who would have access to confidential employee information had reference background checks conducted that included verifying information provided by the job applicant or communicating with people regarding the job applicant such as former co-workers.

In general, organizations responding to the surveys from SHRM indicated that the following policies and procedures were in place for conducting reference, credit, and/or criminal background checks on job candidates as of 2009:

  • 95% had notified candidates that any false or intentionally misleading information provided in the application process was grounds for retracting job offers;
  • 91% had policies that no criminal background checks were conducted without signed consent from the candidates;
  • 89% had policies that only designated personnel would have access to reference, credit, and/or criminal background check information;
  • 79% had written policies for employees to follow regarding conducting reference background checks; and
  •  78% had standardized questions for the person conducting the reference background check on behalf of the organization, and written policies for employees to follow regarding conducting criminal background checks.

When asked if the number of reference, credit, and/or criminal background checks that their organizations conducted on job applicants increased, decreased, or remained the same as a result of the economic downturn, approximately three out of four respondents replied that the number had remained the same for reference background checks (74 percent), criminal background checks (73 percent), and credit background checks (71 percent). 

For more information on how employers can conduct an effective background check program, contact Employment Screening Resources (ESR).