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The importance of background checks

You can no longer rely on trust

You review the resume, conduct the interview and make a job offer.  It’s a simple process, right? Wrong! What you don’t know about a job applicant can hurt you and your organization. It’s not a good business practice to hire just anyone who walks through your door. It’s also not a good practice to merely rely on trust. You should know both who they are and their history. Don’t be a victim of deceit by simply looking at a resume or take someone’s word they are honest and qualified. When it comes to your organization, you cannot afford to take chances!

Conducting background checks on potential employees and volunteers should be a major part of your organization’s business process. Background checks can help reduce risk for criminal activities such as violence, abuse and theft. They can also verify the information on an applicant’s resume or job application and assist your organization in deciding if an individual is the right person for the job.

Your organization has a legal obligation to protect.

Be mindful that employers have a legal obligation to protect their business, staff, and customers from any foreseeable act of an employee or volunteer. You don’t want to end up in a negligent hiring situation due to poor hiring practices. If your organization fails to conduct a background check prior to hiring and an employee or volunteer commits a crime while on the job, your organization assumes the liability for their actions.

"Negligent hiring” lawsuits are on the rise.

Organizations have a “duty of care” to protect staff and patrons from applicants the organization knew—or should have known—posed a risk. For example, a newly “hired” volunteer positioned themselves close to a remote restroom and assaulted a school aged child as she was using the facilities. It turned out that this person was on the sex offender registry, but the organization never checked before accepting the applicant and allowing them full access to the organization. The organization's failure to conduct a thorough background check virtually ensured it was headed for a negligent-hiring suit.

It's important to remember you don't have unlimited rights to dig into someone's background or personal life, so you need to know what you can and can’t do when conducting background checks. When hiring new employees or volunteers, you want as much information as possible to make smart decisions. But there’s a caveat. Employees and volunteers have privacy rights in certain areas, and it's a right they can enforce with legal charges if background checks are not conducted within the laws that govern this screening.

You need to become familiar with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

This act gives you, the employer and the applicant a fair method for processing reports for background screening. Under the FCRA, you're typically free to conduct background checks and use the information if you have a clear business interest, such as hiring, firing, reassigning or promoting someone. But you can’t run a job background check on a whim.

Prior to conducting a background check, you must supply the applicant with a “Summary of Your Rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” (applicant's rights) and obtain their written permission using an Authorization and Release Form. If you decide not to hire or promote someone based on information in their report, you must provide a copy of the report and inform the individual of his or her rights to challenge the report under the FCRA by supplying an Adverse Action Form.

If information should surface that someone is unfit for the job, your organization can be held liable for negligent hiring. No business is immune from negligent hiring due to poor hiring practices. Negligent hiring is based on the premise that employers have an obligation to protect staff and clients from harm or injury (or “foreseeable” acts) caused by an employee. If an organization fails to conduct a background check prior to hiring and a staff or volunteer commits an unspeakable act, your organization assumes the liability for the their actions. This is why it's necessary for organizations to perform due diligence and conduct background checks on every new hire, regardless of the size of your organization. Volunteers, based on their contact with children and other vulnerable populations should also carefully be screened.

Therefore, it's important to know what's permitted (and what's not) when checking a potential candidate's background and work history. All reports compiled and received by your organization are subject to the laws of the FCRA. It’s a good idea to consult with an attorney and perform legal research to gain knowledge on the laws on federal, state and local levels (and the laws governing their access and use in the hiring decision making process (they can vary from state to state) prior to conducting pre-employment screening. When setting-up and implementing your background screening program, here are a few guidelines to remember:

  • Create a written background check policy specifically for your organization
  • Follow all FCRA guidelines and federal, state and local regulations
  • Use a combination of screening products and develop job-specific searches
  • Establish criteria to evaluate information – what will constitute disqualifying information
  • Eliminate subjective opinions to ensure consistency when reviewing results

Background screening is your first line of defense.

So then, what type of background checks best benefit your organization? What types of background checks should you run? Not all “types” of background checks need performed for every job or position within your organization. Most basic background checks involve criminal reports, Social Security number/address history and education/employment verification. The option always exists to expand a search beyond the basic screening components (most additional checks are usually determined by the job title or function). Depending on the position and their role within your organization, you can add additional searches such as sex offender registry, motor vehicle reports, professional licenses, credit history and drug testing.

Now more than ever, organizations should be careful about the quality of people they hire. Criminals and abusers look for employment opportunities at organizations that don't run background checks. Organizations that have a screening program know the importance of checking an applicant's history. The process doesn't need to be difficult or expensive. It's all about maintaining a safe organization, protecting staff and patrons, assets and reducing risk. There's no rule that says you have to hire a person from a group of applicants. If none of your candidates are right for the job, keep looking. You'll be glad you did.

When considering a vendor for background checks

The importance of aligning with a reputable background check company

Not too long ago, only a few dozen companies offered background-checking services. This industry has since mushroomed in size and scope—but not necessarily quality—after post-9/11 many concerns drove up the demand for increased background screening.

The result: There are now many in the screening industry, making it difficult to sort out the top tier from the fly-by-night firms. Many sell cheap but incomplete background checks in minutes. Too often, they simply restate old information bought from private data brokers with no guarantee the data are current or correct.

How can your organization determine just whom to select?

The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), a 650-member industry group, recently unveiled a comprehensive, six-pronged certification and accreditation process. The goal: Identify “gold standard” pre-employment screening firms that excel in the areas of consumer protection, legal compliance, client education, data quality, verification and business practices.

These new standards address a longstanding concern of Human Resource professionals: the absence of a concrete benchmark to vet and verify the quality of the background screeners.

Advice: When choosing a background-screening provider or renewing your current one, look for PBSA certification ( Then, ask potential screening providers about their accuracy, specifically their error rate and resolution rate. Its information they don’t always give out, but it’s important criteria to judge diligence, compliance and abilities concerning the background reports they provide.


"Managing Your Background Screening Programs – Free Tips to Get You Started the Right Way”
By Sharon L. Zaleski
– An article provided by

“Risk Management and Background Checks” by William F. Hauswirth, President - An article provided by


Online resources for the FCRA:

The FTC’s main FCRA site:

An explanation of employer obligations under the law -