The Basics of Employee Background Screening

Generally speaking, employees understand that background screening can help ensure new hires are who they say they are, have accurately stated their experience, and have the work ethic and values that will fit into the company’s culture. They are also aware of the liability they face for “negligent hires” of persons they knew or should have known could bring violence to the workplace, harm the public in the course of their employment, or commit crimes adversely affecting other employees, customers, or vendors.

According to a 2018 SHRM report 95% of employers utilize outside vendors to conduct one or more employee background checks. That’s not surprising given the types of backgrounds conducted, an employer’s limited access to public databases, and the myriad laws and regulations that govern the collection of private information. However, using a third party to conduct checks does not relieve the employer of liability if the applicant/employee rights are violated in the reporting process. It is essential that employers ensure that third party background firms are experienced and fully qualified to perform the service.

The “Standard” Background Check

There really isn’t a “standard background check.” The types of backgrounds conducted are determined by the needs of the employer, or in some cases, mandated by the employer’s industry. There are however, some types of checks that are common to all business needs.

  • Form I-9. Required to ensure an applicant is authorized to work in the U.S.  Initiated in 1987, the I-9 has now grown to a 15-page form that comes with a 69-page instruction booklet. While some completion standards have been relaxed to accommodate new working practices (remote workers) caused by the pandemic, every new hire must complete this form within 3 days of the date of hire. Paper I-9 and supporting applicant documents have to be securely stored creating a tedious task of retrieval during an audit. However, today there are services that offer an online I-9 process. Employers can fill out the form online, scan and attach supporting documents and both employer and employee can sign electronically. The document is then submitted to the service where it is stored in the cloud. The advantages are obvious. Fewer errors than forms filled out by hand. Retrieval is a snap making audits less stressful, and no need to dedicate office space as paper storage.
  • Drug Screen. Drug screens are common background checks particularly with organizations that have a Drug Free Workplace policy or who are in a safety-sensitive industry. The federal standard for drug screening is a urinalysis. These screens will look for recent use of marijuana, opioids, amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Companies who use pre-employment and periodic drug screening enjoy fewer work comp claims, lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and lower turnover. 
  • Criminal Records Check. Another common employment background investigation is the criminal records check. The purpose is to assess an applicant’s honesty, trustworthiness, or propensity towards violence. Criminal backgrounds assist in creating a safe and secure workplace as well as avoiding wrongful hire liability. There are a variety of record searches available including national, federal, state, and county court records. The information you receive back will depend on the search selected, the jurisdiction(s) searched and the compliance of reporting agencies. Generally speaking, reports will go back 7 years although some states may report felonies indefinitely and others may limit misdemeanors to 5, 7, or 10 years. Arrest records are not included in employment background checks to comply with EEOC requirements. 

These three background checks are common but obviously do not reflect the “total” picture. Employers can select from a broad range of checks including DMV records, employment verification, credit check, verification of education and professional credentials, sex offender lists, and other databases right down to municipal infringements (permit violations, jaywalking, etc.).

Effective background checks depend heavily on the organization searching for the information. Blue Star Diagnostics made its name and reputation principally for its comprehensive and cost-effective drug and alcohol testing. The same professionalism that is the hallmark of our lab work is applied to our other background services.

Give us a call and we will be happy to design a background package appropriate for your organization. Get the most out of your onboarding budget with accurate, reliable data.

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