Ten Secrets of Background Checks

Guest Post by Jim Addison

Background checks by employers are on the rise, but do you really know everything that is being searched? Did you know that your employer may be liable if they use some types of information to deny you employment? Whether you are getting checked or are doing the checking, you’ll need to know these ten secrets so you can protect yourself.

Secret #1: Poor credit may not disqualify you, and if it does your employer has to reveal it if it is a factor.

Less than 50% of companies run credit checks. Most of them are in the financial industry. Some states set extremely strict limits on the practice. If they run the report, it’s like any other check. Only the past 5-7 years count and if there is a problem they have to provide a copy and explain why.

Secret #2: People lie regularly on resumes and applications.

The Society of Human Resources Management says that 53% of all job applications contain inaccurate information. The Wall Street Journal in 2003 said that 34% of all job applications contain outright lies. This is one reason why background checks are so necessary these days.

Secret #3: Internet database searches may not be enough.

Many internet databases only gather surface level information about people. If you need to be very thorough about your check then you’ll want to hire a company with experience in digging beyond this level.

Secret #4: If you are disqualified for a criminal offense, it must be revealed to you.

Companies are only allowed to disqualify you for criminal offenses if the offense has a direct bearing on the job. A parking ticket arrest isn’t going to keep you out of all jobs but it may make it difficult if you’re a driver. Also, if they do disqualify you they must give reveal it and give you a chance to explain yourself.

Secret #5: Avoiding background checks could get you cited for illegal hiring.

ICE regularly audits companies who might be suspected of hiring illegal aliens knowingly or unknowingly. You can have your company debarred and face massive fines. Systems like E-Verify help, but companies must also do their due diligence.

Secret #6: If you’re an executive, you’ll probably be scrutinized more.

After the Enron scandal, it is now common practice to look deeply into the histories of potential executive hires. If you are working at this level, expect your private life to be not so private anymore. In some states, once salary reaches a particular level an employer can look further back into your history.

Secret #7: If it was a secret, but you made it public, it’s no longer a secret.

This is something that can catch people off-guard in today’s socially connected world. If you share something publically on a site like Facebook, say a health related matter, and an employer can find it through a normal internet search, then it is considered a public record and they can use it. Assume everything you put onto social media can be found by an employer. Take steps to either delete it or change the privacy settings on posts you don’t want them to see.

Secret #8: Asking for social media passwords is illegal.

Under the Stored Communications Act, looking through another person’s stored data on a computer system is illegal. Some employers have tried testing the waters by asking for candidate’s passwords as a condition of employment. There are several lawsuits pending that are making their way to the Supreme Court. Best practice right now is to not ask in the first place.

Secret #9: In some cases, an employer can ask the employee for information that they can’t legally get from a background check.

The laws vary from state to state about what an employer can ask about in a job application. The most common thing you see is a question about whether or not you’ve ever been arrested at all. Background checks only go back 7-10 years. Check the law carefully when writing your employee questionnaires!

Secret #10: Even if an employer has bad things to say about you, they normally limit themselves to reduce liability.

It is very easy for an employer to land into legal hot water if they say negative things about a previous employee. If word gets back to the employee and the information isn’t air-tight it can cause a lawsuit. There is a usual set of questions that are asked to reduce liability to the minimum. These are normally a check of the name, position, salary, why they left, and would they rehire the person again.

Were you aware of these secrets before? I’m sure you can see the importance of knowing these things regardless if you’re getting or giving a background check. Everyone needs to know the federal and state laws that apply to these checks to make sure they are done in a fair manner for all.

Jim Addison has been in the ever-changing background check industry more years than he cares to count. Currently, he lives in Denver with his wife Catherine and three boys. He adores hiking in the Rockies, letterboxing, and craft beer.