How to Implement a Comprehensive Employee Criminal Background Check Policy

Last Updated:
December 28, 2023
Kay Nicole

How to Implement a Comprehensive Employee Criminal Background Check Policy

In many cases, HR/hiring managers must tell applicants that a clean criminal background check doesn't guarantee employment. It is important that they do this consistently and only consider convictions about the specific job.

Businesses must also decide whether to conduct periodic or continuous screening or just one-time checks for new hires. A well-designed policy can minimize bias and reduce liability.

Know Your Legal Requirements

Employers need to understand the rules governing employee background checks and follow them strictly. This includes understanding when to ask about criminal records, what checks are required, and who will undergo a check. It would help if you also determined how often you'll perform them, whether at a specific time or continuously.

An employee criminal background check reviews an applicant's arrests, convictions, and incarceration history. It may also include a driving record, credit checks, U.S. terror watch list, and sex offender registry checks. Many states and cities have ban-the-box laws that restrict when employers can ask about candidates' records, so it's important to review these rules carefully.

Your policy should clearly state screening purposes, including gaining critical background information to ensure you make good hiring decisions, verifying that candidates' claims are truthful, and screening out applicants who have disqualifying criminal convictions. You should also explain how you'll apply your screening process consistently. For example, all candidates going through your hiring process should receive the same checks.

Identify Your Needs

When developing an employee criminal background check policy, it's important to identify your business's needs. The screening program aims to ensure that your company has critical background information on candidates to make better hiring decisions and protect your employees, customers, and assets. It also helps verify claims by applicants and screens out candidates with disqualifying criminal convictions.

The most common checks include a criminal record, MVR (motor vehicle records), credit report, and education history. Many companies also scan a candidate's social media to ensure they don't post anything that could reflect poorly on the organization.

While it's not required by law, it's a good idea to conduct all of your background checks before making a conditional offer of employment. This can help minimize your risk, especially in an industry regulated by state and federal laws.

It's also common to run a background check on current employees applying for transfers or promotions. When a new position involves more responsibility or access to sensitive data, it's typically best for HR and hiring managers to screen current staff as brand-new hires. However, you must notify them of this and obtain their consent. This can be done through a one-on-one conversation, team meeting, or via a communication app like Homebase.

Create a Policy

A background check policy is a chance for a company to codify its best practices and set the stage for conducting and managing a screening process. It also ensures that all candidates have a consistent experience, which can help to mitigate bias in hiring decisions.

Having a clear and concise policy helps to make the process more efficient. For example, suppose an employee's background check shows they were arrested for burglary. In that case, the company can review the policy to determine whether or not this is considered a disqualifying offense.

The policy should also define the types of information that will be used in employment decisions. It's a good practice to tailor an employment screening package by position, for instance, running credit checks on employees who manage money and driving record checks on those who operate vehicles. It's also important to consider any state and local laws regarding the use of certain categories of information in making a decision, such as ban-the-box regulations or Title VII laws prohibiting discrimination based on a protected category.

The policy should also cover what steps will be taken if an employee has been arrested for a crime, such as providing the necessary documentation and obtaining consent. It's recommended that HR staff discuss any findings with the hiring manager and provide a copy of the individual background report to the candidate.

Train Your Staff

A well-designed background check policy can help you avoid expensive litigation and other costly mistakes. It can also ensure that you're hiring the best people to keep your business running smoothly and promote an ethical, safe, and fair workplace.

When drafting your employee criminal background check policy, consider how to address your organization's and industry's unique needs. For example, highly regulated industries like healthcare and education often require a certain level of expertise for specific positions, so screening only candidates with the appropriate credentials for those roles is important. Similarly, financial institutions are concerned about compliance and must be careful not to hire people with prior convictions for sensitive work.

It's also helpful to provide clear guidance on when rejecting a candidate for a job is acceptable because of a criminal record and what types of offenses are considered disqualifying. A comprehensive background check includes more than just looking for court records in a candidate's current home jurisdiction—it must include a national search, searches on terror watch lists, the sex offender registry, and other research.

Once your policy is in place, train everyone involved in the hiring process to interpret the results and follow your guidelines. It would help if you also established a decision matrix to standardize which offenses are relevant and which ones aren't, and you'll need to document each decision and the reasons for it.

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