At HireRight, we conduct approximately 13 million background checks each year. That’s a lot of checks! So it’s not uncommon to get questions from recruiters about the background screening process.
(In fact, we have found that we tend to receive the same questions from recruiters over and over again.)
So, we’ve answered some of them here. You’ll note that employment background checks can be quite complex. If you find these helpful, please feel free to share them with your colleagues!
1. Why can background checks take so long?
Turnaround times for completing a background check can vary based on the complexity of each individual’s personal background history.
A candidate may apply for a job in Columbus, IN but depending on your background check requirements, you may request that the background check cover all of the locations (domestically and internationally) where the candidate previously lived, worked or attended school.
All of this requires diligence and persistence as courts may require physical in-person searches and when working with employment or education verifications, the verifier may not always be able to get in touch with schools or employers on their first call.
This is especially true around holiday times.
In some cases, past employment verification may be even more complex.
For instance, the employer is no longer in existence or perhaps if the candidate was self-employed.
In such instances, the applicant will need to provide alternate proof, such as tax documentation.
With respect to education verification, a school may require a specific release, a paid fee, or may no longer be in existence.
So, why can a background check take so long sometimes? In short, they are highly complex endeavors.
2. Why can’t you just plug into some CSI-type database and get instant criminal background info?
In the era of Google and Twitter, we all have come to expect instant access to information.
Unfortunately, television shows such as CSI have created an unrealistic expectation that looking up criminal information is as simple as logging on to a centralized criminal database that keeps a current record of all individuals in the country.
However, there is no such criminal database in the United States that singularly reports all criminal convictions.
Public records are the responsibility of the 3,100+ individual counties, approximately 30% of which do not even maintain digital criminal records.
For these counties, it actually requires a human being to walk into the county court house and retrieve a paper record.
Each court has its own process and timelines for providing the resulting records.
So while there may be databases that aggregate arrests and convictions on a partial basis, it is simply not possible to look someone up in a single database and expect that database to offer an accurate portrayal of an individual’s potential criminal history.
To complicate matters, there are also eleven federal districts (each with multiple courts) where criminal data may reside.
It all adds up to a convoluted, disparate and cumbersome process for obtaining criminal background information.
3. What does a successful background checking program look like?
Background checking is much more complex and nuanced than simply collecting information on an individual.
The definition of a successful program really depends upon the particulars of your organization. Are you in a government regulated industry?
Are you a global organization or do you hire a lot of employees with international backgrounds?
Do you have a large extended workforce (contractors, contingent labor, etc.)?
All of these factors should be considered when building an effective program.
Furthermore, a background verification program should also ensure that it considers other critical factors beyond just speed and accuracy of the screening reports. Best practices include:
- A standardized policy and uniform processes
- A focus on a positive candidate experience
- Educating candidates about background checks and helping them to prepare
- Enabling and empowering candidates through mobile technology
- Awareness of and adherence to applicable regulations, e.g. FCRA, EEOC, “Ban the Box” laws, in the U.S. and a myriad of laws and regulations that checker the globe.
- Extending and promoting the employer brand into the background checking process
- Partnership with a knowledgeable background check vendor who can provide helpful education
4. Do I actually need to conduct E-Verify checks?
The short answer is “maybe.”
While federal law requires all employers to fill out Form I-9 for new employees, E-Verify, a free service of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is not required of all employers.
However, some employers subject to certain State or Federal laws are mandated to use E-Verify.
For example, most employers performing services under a Federal Contract which includes a Federal Acquisition Regulation E-Verify clause are required to participate in E-Verify.
5. Why do you guys go through all of these “legalese” documents to screen someone when they could just be looked up on Google or Facebook?
Unlike most employers, a background check vendor is considered a Credit Reporting Agency (CRA).
Consequently, it is subject to the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which helps protect consumers’ rights and ensures a fair hiring process.
In practice, this means that employers cannot simply initiate verifications through a CRA without first presenting the legally-mandated disclosures to the candidate and then collecting their consent.
Even then, it is much more complex than simply googling a name.
The CRA must ensure that the information that they report is accurate and complete, and importantly, being conducted on the correct individual!
For all of these reasons, a CRA simply cannot rely on simple web searches to conduct a check.
6. Other background check vendors never forced me to go through credentialing? Why do I have to do it with you guys?
Any consumer reporting agency that is operating in a manner that is compliant with the FCRA should want to know how you, as an employer, intend to use and safeguard your candidate’s data.
HireRight may take this more seriously than perhaps some others because employer credentialing is a vital part of HireRight’s due diligence process and helps protect both employers and their candidates.
We rigorously check each potential client to ensure that they are the business that they purport to be and are not simply exploiting HireRight’s services for potentially impermissible background check activities.
In fact, if a background check vendor does not perform employer credentialing, or fails to conduct it in a meticulous manner, it might actually raise concerns about the vendor’s ability to meet its legal and regulatory obligations.
7. Why is it so difficult to verify past employers?
Employment verifications tend to be among the most difficult verifications to conduct.
Employers are legal entities that change names, get acquired, or simply cease to exist.
In addition, they experience significant turnover of staff over the years.
Difficult as it is to believe, not all employers keep digital records, especially among the smaller “mom and pop” type business.
They may simply not have records dating back many years, much less beyond the memory of the proprietors themselves.
For all of these reasons, and more, employment verifications require a seasoned and dedicated verifier to research, inquire and follow up with employers.
However, candidates can be empowered to take proactive action to help smooth the verification process.
Accurate employer contact information or employment records, such as W2 forms, can help speed the turnaround time.
A fast verification process is in the best interest of the candidate as well, so recruiters should educate and encourage them to help facilitate the process.
8. What if schools listed on the candidate’s application or resume are no longer in existence?
Just like employers, schools sometimes shutter their doors.
Sometimes, this can happen in rather dramatic fashion, such as after Hurricane Katrina, when many high schools never re-opened.
In these instances, it may be extremely complicated to obtain a verification of a high school degree.
If the candidate has a higher education degree, or perhaps many years of verified work experience already, then perhaps the requirement for a high school degree may become less relevant.
If the institution that conferred the candidate’s higher education degree similarly no longer exists, then an employer may have to be comfortable with accepting the candidate’s degree or transcripts on their face.
HR may want to assess their policies to consider what is reasonable and when it makes sense to adjust their own requirements.
As this example shows, it behooves everyone to periodically reassess their own policies. When a policy causes pain, we should not be afraid to ask, “Why?”
9. Do I really have to “Ban the Box?”
You might. It really depends on where you’re hiring.
Even if you’re not hiring in one of an affected jurisdiction today, be aware that the “Ban the Box” movement is rapidly spreading among municipalities and states across the country.
Few things have the potential to cause problems for employers like this type of inconsistent regulatory landscape.
At HireRight, we understand that the Ban the Box movement is a major area of concern for customers.
In fact, you’ve told us so on numerous occasions!
To help you understand who, what and where Ban the Box has been implemented, and what your obligations are, we have developed this handy summary.
And if you’re a HireRight customer, we arm you with an even more extensive and in-depth analysis of Ban the Box, which you can find on our Compliance Central portal.
(What’s that, you’re not familiar with Compliance Central? Please get in touch with me and I’ll gladly help you find it.)
10. How should we be drug screening, by the way?
Pre-employment drug screening is another one of those areas where employers frequently ask questions.
Our annual benchmarking survey clearly indicates that urine analysis is by far the most popular form of testing.
Most employers tend to choose a standard five-panel test, though this can be highly tailored and it is not unusual to conduct seven- or nine-panel tests as well.
In fact, some employers with special requirements even conduct twelve-panel tests.
In general, it is important to note that one-size does not fit all.
Regulated employers, such as Transportation or Health Care, may have to adhere to more stringent requirements. Others will have wider options at their disposal.
Employers should consider whether oral fluid (swabbing) makes most sense, if providing urine specimens captures a better snapshot of a candidate’s potential drug history, or if hair samples are the best option for them.
For a helpful summary of benefits and drawbacks of each method, please consult our Drug and Health Comparison Chart.
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