Background checks are useful tools for employers in hiring and promoting the most qualified people. They can help identify and screen out those candidates who have given inaccurate information on employment applications or who might present a risk of violence or theft in the workplace. Employers conducting background checks are generally seeking information that will provide insight into an employee's general character and suitability for a particular position. The types of information that may be obtained through background checks include:
• Verification of Social Security number (SSN) and past addresses
• Criminal and civil records
• Driving records
• Credit history
• Verification of education and past employment
• Verification of professional licenses
• Reference checks
• Bankruptcy and workers' compensation records
• Military service records
Background checks, however, are costly, and various state and federal laws regulate an employer's ability to collect and use certain types of information in employment decisions. These laws are discussed in more detail below. In addition, regardless of the type of information the employer plans to gather, following are certain basic rules employers should follow:
• During the hiring process, background checks should be limited to only those applicants who have received a conditional offer of employment (conditioned on successful completion of the background check and any other preemployment screening).
• Information sought in a background check should be job-related (i.e., the employer does not need a driving record for an employee who will be working as a customer service representative and who is not expected to operate a company vehicle).
• Information obtained during a background investigation must be kept confidential. Keep all records secure at all times.