Are Employee Background Checks Legal?

Are Employee Background Checks Legal?

by | Sep 20, 2017 | Employment Law

Unfortunately for employers all over the country and world, not every prospective job candidate is completely forthright about their work history and background. For many employers, it’s critical that all their employees meet certain legal qualifications in order to avoid infractions with state and federal law. This where professional employee background checks come in.

Because some job candidates provide incomplete or false information, a large industry has sprung up around providing businesses large and small with detailed background information about the people they are considering hiring. But are employee background checks legal?

The short answer is yes, employee background checks are 100% legal and are often recommended even when not legally required. However, there are some guidelines employers should follow to make sure they don’t step over the line when conducting employee background checks and end up the subject of a lawsuit against them.
 

Keep Inquiries Job Related

When doing employee background checks, it’s important to stick to information that strictly relevant to the position and employer is hiring for.

If the position is, for example, a security guard who will carry a weapon and be responsible for large amounts of cash, you might reasonably check for past criminal convictions. If you’re hiring an administrative assistant, however, a criminal background check is probably unnecessary.
 

Ask For Consent

The best way to maintain safe legal standing is to ask for permission, in writing, from each candidate to conduct a background check. Clearly explain the process and how the information will be gathered.

This gives candidates a chance to decline upfront (saving you time and money) in the event there are things they do not want disclosed to an employer. It also prevents them from claiming you invaded their privacy after the fact.

If an applicant does refuse to consent to a background check, employers may legally decide not to hire the person on that basis alone.
 

Be Reasonable

There is such a thing as too much information for certain kinds of employee background checks. Employers rarely need to perform extensive background checks for every position they’re hiring for, and those that do will quickly find their hiring process getting bogged down and very expensive.

Employers that find themselves questioning neighbors, ordering credit checks, and performing exhaustive searches of public records every time they hire a clerk or sales rep need to scale it back.
 

Worker’s Right To Privacy

It’s important to keep in mind, from a legal perspective, that employers don’t have an unfettered right to dig into a candidate’s personal affairs. Employees have a right to privacy in certain personal matters, a right they can enforce by suing you if you dig too deeply.

The easiest way to avoid legal trouble is to hire a reputable employee background checks service that will do the work on behalf of the company. Employers simply tell a service provider how deeply they want to screen, and the background check company handles everything else.

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