Background Checks for New Employees: What’s Legal?

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Hiring a new employee can be incredibly stressful. It requires time, money, and effort, maybe from multiple people on your team. This is why it’s important to get the hire right the first time—so you don’t spend any more time than you have to on finding competent people to fill your open positions. 

 

This is why running a background check it so appealing—it can help you learn more about the candidate than you can learn on your own. Hopefully, a background check would reveal any serious red flags a candidate might have before you hire them, which could ultimately help you avoid costly turnover. 

 

But how exactly do you do a background check? What is legal when it comes to background checks, and what isn’t? These are laws and regulations you don’t want to mess around with, so we’ve distilled down the most important things you should know before running a background check on a potential employee.

 

Notify the employee

Before you run the background check, you need to let the employee know that the background check is being conducted. You should also let them know what information the background check could potentially reveal that would influence your hiring decision.

 

You should also notify the employee if:

  • You’ll be conducting ongoing background checks as a condition of employment
  • You’ll be conducting any in-person interviews to learn more about the employee’s background or character

 

Obtain consent

The employee needs to consent to the background check, in writing.

 

What can be included in a background check

Background checks can help you investigate an employee’s history in many different areas of life, such as:

 

  • Credit records
  • Past employers
  • Sex offender lists
  • Drug test records
  • Educational records
  • Criminal records

 

Not all of this information will be accessed on every background check. Ultimately, the information you’re able to legally access will depend on where your business is located and what industry you’re in. 

 

What is illegal to include in a background check?

There are a few things that will not be included in a legal background check. This includes:

 

  • Protected information (race, age, color, sex, marital status, etc.)
  • Medical information

 

Other laws to be aware of

To get a thorough idea of what you are permitted to do with your employee background checks, you’ll need to review your state’s laws. Consider talking to a lawyer, or working with a staffing agency that can point you in the right direction and help your company make legally smart decisions.

 

Background checks are powerful tools for helping you avoid major hiring mistakes. As long as you operate within the laws that apply to you, you can utilize background checks to feel more confident in your hiring decisions.

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