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How to Do a Pre-Employment Background Check

Close-up of an employment application, with a blue ballpoint pen resting on top of it.

96% of employers conduct background checks during the hiring process. This is common protocol across most companies, and some even test periodically during the employee lifecycle. There are many reasons why pre-employment screenings are good practice — and often legally required — for your company, including: 

  • To ensure the safety of employees, clients, customers, and more; 
  • To enhance productivity by making the best hiring choices;
  • To follow federal and state rules and regulations requiring employee pre-screening; 
  • To ensure proper public representation of the company; 
  • To prevent any criminal activity against the company. 

While a negative history report doesn’t necessarily indicate future behavior, it may help determine employment eligibility. This is dependent on several factors — from drug use impacting job performance to resident status impacting employment possibility. Luckily, there are several types of screening tests to choose from. This guide will offer information essential to business leaders when pursuing the adoption of background checks into policy. 

Choosing the Type of Background Check

There are various types of pre-screening tools that provide different information that may be useful for a variety of situations. This usefulness may also fluctuate as your business grows and changes. You may opt for a robust, integrated drug screening and background check system — or you may opt to find specific information with tests for past and current: 

  • Criminal records of felonies or misdemeanors; 
  • Incarceration;
  • Employment; 
  • Education;
  • Driving records;
  • Drug use;
  • Credit;
  • Civil court records;
  • Identity verification; 
  • Fingerprint records; 
  • Tenant history; 
  • Sexual offenses; 
  • Gun ownership;
  • Child and domestic abuse.

There are varying levels of screening dependent on your specific requirements. For instance, careers requiring high levels of confidence — think FBI or CIA — opt for in-depth security clearances. Positions in education require more extensive childcare clearances. Assess local and nationwide rules along with your company needs to determine the right pre-employment testing for you. Bear in mind that more extensive or detailed reports may take longer than simpler credential validation or basic screening.

The Steps of Running a Pre-Employment Background Check

There are clear steps to follow to execute a successful background check for each potential hire. This enables you to receive the most pertinent information to help you make the best hiring decisions. 

Create a Clear Background Check Policy

First, define what is important to your company when choosing a new hire. Basic red flags to look for may include: 

  • Lying about job history or education;
  • Refusal to complete a background check; 
  • Habitual drug use;
  • Patterns of convictions. 

Every company has different values, so these warning signs will naturally vary. However, outlining your values preemptively allows you to determine which pre-employment tests to consider. You may want to only screen for hard drugs, or you may only care about job-relevant arrests and convictions. Work with your hiring team — and, ideally, the whole workforce — to determine what is best for your unique work environment. Then, keep a copy of these ground rules where they can be seen and adjusted accordingly.

Ensure the Background Check Policy Is Legally Compliant

Legality regarding employee screening is based on two things — what employers can and can’t check. This also encompasses questions that are part of the hiring process and not necessarily the official background checks. Some actions that are prohibited include: 

  • Asking about personal or family medical information before hiring; 
  • Not getting written permission from the candidate before running a background screen;
  • Not providing a copy of the report to the candidate;
  • Treating candidates differently based on any of the following factors.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate based on disability, genetic information, race, color, gender, sex, sexual orientation, age, or religion. This bleeds into pre-employment background screening when a particular test excludes a certain demographic from the talent pool. This may happen when running credit reports or even criminal history checks. 

Furthermore, the FCRA sets limits on how far back consumer reporting agencies can go when reporting background information. This varies depending on the type of information, but seven years is a typical cutoff point. Always check to see if regulations have been updated — such as the recent ban of using criminal history that disproportionately affects transgender people of color — so that your company doesn’t take any discriminatory actions.

Identify the Type of Information You Need and the Appropriate Background Check Tools or Services

Once you have determined company-wide hiring goals, it’s time to decide how to achieve those goals. For each hiring expectation, make sure you are staying FCRA compliant. Then, figure out which tools will give you the information needed to fulfill that expectation. 

Traditional Screening and Credentialing 

To combat negligent hiring issues, employers have been running background checks for decades. Traditionally, this meant finding an accredited background screening professional to do the assessment. Then, the potential hires would fill out a form with the information required, and it would be sent to the professional agencies. Without the real-time advantages of the internet, this process was often costly, lengthy, and rigorous. 

Online People-Search Databases

Luckily, the internet has opened up background screening possibilities. Also referred to as people-finder websites, online people-search databases are sites available to anyone with internet access. Average citizens may visit these sites, pay a fee, and find information on specific people. Some of the perks of this option are that it’s:

  • Less costly; 
  • User-friendly;
  • Quick in response time;
  • Accessible to everyone.

However, some of the drawbacks include: 

  • Non-customizable information; 
  • Reports only accessible for roughly 30 days;
  • Inaccurate reports that may be issued; 
  • Unclear adherence to employer regulations;
  • Information given that is already likely known by a prospective employer — like addresses and phone numbers.

While this is a budget-friendly, widely accessible option for the public, it may not be suitable for employment purposes. Instead, look into screening services that are tailored specifically for hiring. 

Online Employment Screening Services 

Background screening and credentialing platforms allow you to pick and choose which tests suit your needs. This way, you aren’t paying for — and combing through — unnecessary information. These online platforms consolidate the background screening process, providing one access point for all of the necessary results.

The results are compiled into easy-to-read reports, simplifying this part of the hiring process. Some of the most popular screening options you may want to consider as an employer include: 

  • Criminal background — civil court records, national criminal records, sex offender registry status, driving records, etc.; 
  • Identity check — fingerprinting, verification of ID, and additional biometrics upon request;
  • Financial report — credit reports from the bureaus, any executive investigations, liens, and any filed bankruptcies; 
  • Credential verification — experience, education, professional licensure, reference checks, etc.

These screening platforms may also offer additional services with your subscription. The following may help determine a potential employee’s eligibility to enter — or remain within — your workforce:

  • Pre-employment clinical tests — physicals, vaccinations, infectious disease testing, etc.;
  • Rapid urine drug tests — FDA-approved drug testing with different panels to choose from;
  • Onboarding services — I-9 forms, electronic signatures, etc.;
  • Employee monitoring — follow-up tests to ensure compliance after the initial hire.

It’s financially responsible to only pay for what you need. These platforms make that possible and even offer add-on services, like exams that certify you to collect urine for drug testing. As long as you are FCRA compliant, the screens you perform for new hires are up to your discretion. 

Review the Background Check with the Potential Hire

It’s imperative to review the background check with the prospective employee. Especially in the incident of a negative item on their report, candidates are entitled to confirm accuracy. If the negative item is inaccurate, they have the option to dispute it. Always keep the candidate informed of the background check process, from initial consent to the way you use the reports to determine employment eligibility. This is the best way to stay out of legal trouble and perpetuate the ethical treatment of potential hires.

Make an Informed Hiring Decision

With the right, FCRA-approved tests and tools under your belt, you can make optimal hiring decisions. Keeping the safety of your employees and clients at the top of your mind, use these background reports to inform your next hire. Remember that, as an employer, you must do your due diligence. This will not only increase the company’s productivity and effectiveness but will keep your workforce strong for years to come.