Employment Background Checks: An Overview

Purpose Employee Background Checks

In the dynamic landscape of modern employment, organizations face multifaceted challenges in identifying and selecting the right candidates to join their teams. The hiring process has evolved beyond mere resume scrutiny and interviews. It now demands a thorough assessment of an individual’s background to mitigate potential risks and ensure the integrity of the workforce. The benefits of a sound background screening process are numerous:

Verification of Credentials: Confirmation of academic credentials and past job experience enables employers to identify and hire individuals who possess the requisite skills and qualifications to meet performance needs and expectations.

Mitigating Risks of Misconduct: By requiring applicants to complete comprehensive background screenings, employers can preemptively identify red flags, thereby insuring against potential liabilities and safeguarding organizational assets.

Protecting Business Reputation: The repercussions of hiring an unsuitable candidate extend far beyond the confines of the workplace. Instances of employee misconduct or negligence can precipitate irreparable damage to an organization’s brand image, eroding consumer trust and stakeholder confidence.

Fostering a Secure Work Environment: Background screenings play a pivotal role in this regard by enabling employers to identify individuals with a history of criminal or other unlawful behavior, thereby fostering a secure and harmonious work environment conducive to productivity and collaboration.

When To Conduct Employee Background Checks?

The timing of employee background checks plays a pivotal role in shaping the efficiency and integrity of the hiring process. With many companies, all new hires must undergo a background investigation as a prerequisite for finalizing the job offer. However, conducting background checks on all applicants is neither economic nor recommended for equal employment purposes. Background screening should not be used as a mechanism to reduce a broad pool of initial applicants.

Generally, one of two approaches is commonly used, but once established, a company’s process should be applied consistently. First, the organization may elect to screen identified finalists following the conclusion of interviews. Alternatively, a company may require a background check after making a conditional offer of employment. The latter method is preferred by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and may even be required by “ban-the-box” laws in some states. In Virginia, public sector employers may not inquire about an applicant’s criminal history or pending criminal cases on a job application or before an initial interview. This law does not currently apply to private companies, but the EEOC recommends deferring any such questions until after the identification of final candidates for a position. A job application should never ask about arrests.

Note, some professions in Virginia require specific background checks under law. For example, school employees and certain licensed care employees must undergo a criminal background check with the Virginia State Police. Commercial truck drivers similarly must submit to a DOT review.

Who Conducts the Employee Background Check?

While some limited criminal information may be available online to the general public or via State Police inquiries, businesses often utilize professional credit reporting agencies (CRAs) to perform these inquiries, as they have standing databases cultivated for this specific purpose. Depending on the provider, a report might include information on a candidate’s prior areas of residence, educational and professional qualifications, criminal history, driving record, credit background, civil judgments and other information. Importantly, the use of a CRA to conduct an employee background check is considered an order of a “consumer report,” which implicates compliance obligations with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). While the FCRA does not limit the manner in which you may utilize background information, it does include strict authorization, notice and disclosure provisions designed to protect employee rights to a fair and accurate report.

What Employee Information is Restricted?

Both private and public sector employers are prohibited from asking about arrests, criminal charges, or convictions related to the simple use or possession of marijuana. If asked to disclose information about criminal charges and convictions, an applicant may exclude information about these offenses. This law does not apply to more serious offenses such as the distribution or intent to distribute marijuana.

Employers also may not require applicants or employees to provide social media usernames or passwords, or ask to be added to a candidate’s list of social media contacts. Likewise, an employer cannot refuse to hire a candidate for refusing to provide this information. However, Virginia law does not prohibit an employer from viewing information about a current or prospective employee that is publicly available. See Va. Code § 40.1-28.7:5.

Employers may not require job applicants to disclose information about expunged arrest records for any type of offense. See Va. Code § 19.2-392.4

Employers may not fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee solely based upon an applicant’s bankruptcy. Certain financial based businesses are excluded. Federal employers may not discriminate against applicants either, but Courts are split as to whether this protection applies to the private sector. See 11 U.S.C. 525 (b).


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