Pre-Employment Screening

Pre-employment screening is the process of verifying information that job candidates supply on their resumes and job applications. It may also be referred to by other names, such as:

  1. Background Checks
  2. Criminal Background Checks
  3. Background Screening

This type of background check is usually initiated to see if a prospective employee is trustworthy enough to protect confidential or sensitive information, or manage the financial resources of a business. They may also be used to try to determine if job candidates have any criminal tendencies or character flaws that might limit their effectiveness or hurt the employer in other ways, such as endangering the staff or tarnishing the company's reputation.

Most employers conduct a pre-employment screening of job applicants. However, all or part of the screening process is usually outsourced to private third-party organizations that specialize in this type of background check.

Costs vary greatly for pre-employment screening. A simple search of one standalone database may cost less than $10, while a thorough screening at the executive level could cost $100 or more. Most background checks fall somewhere in between, depending on which individual services a company would like to include.

The same variables apply to how long a pre-employment screening will take to conduct. A few simple services can sometimes be quicker than one thorough investigation.

Type of Pre-Employment Screening

There are actually a number of different types of pre-employment screening, and employers will often use more than one. The most basic is Social Security Number tracing, which used to verify the validity of social security data that is used for criminal and credit checks.

Criminal records checks

Criminal record checks will often include a combination of records derived from multiple sources. They can be done at county, state, federal or even international levels. Companies can commonly access this data from just online databases.

Using those databases to check criminal records is referred to as screen-scraping. This process can sometimes turn up charges against job applicants that are very old or have been dismissed.

The general consensus is that the most effective method of getting an accurate picture of a job candidate is to have real people looking through hard copies of records, in order to ensure that they are getting information about the correct person and the true outcome of all criminal cases.

Pre-employment screening services are offered by government agencies such as the FBI and Department of Transportation to employers who want information about driving or criminal records.

It's possible that checking criminal records will protect a company in any Negligent Hiring lawsuits. However, there are laws in many states which specify just how information from these criminal records can be used when evaluating job candidates.

Criminal background checks will often include the following:

  1. FBI Fingerprint Database Search – Submitting fingerprints to the FBI database will not necessarily result in a comprehensive picture of a job candidate's criminal history. That is because the database depends upon local jurisdictions to provide information regarding arrests and their final dispositions. A great deal of information may be missing. This search should comprise only one small part of any pre-employment screening.
  2. National Criminal Record Search (NCRD) – This database is constructed from information in the repositories at the municipal, circuit, district and superior court levels, plus the FBI, Department of Corrections, U.S. Customs, DEA, U.S. Marshal, Department of Justice and Secret Service. It identifies criminal offenses not only where the job candidate has worked or lived, but from all over the country. The national database allows instant access to hundreds of millions of records, including the National Sex Offender Registry.
  3. Federal Criminal Records Search – Bank robbery, embezzlement, interstate drug trafficking are just some examples of the type of federal offenses that won't show up on state and county level searches because they fall under federal jurisdiction. That is why a search of federal crime records is suggested for a thorough pre-employment screening.
  4. Statewide Criminal Records Search – Records of felonies and misdemeanors are usually found in the central repositories of each state. The information is provided by courts, correction and law enforcement agencies all over the state. However, the quality of these searches can vary widely from state to state, since each one gets to decide how data is imported and who is allowed access to it. The information is not always accurate, or up to date. Depending on the state, the records may not even cover all levels of its court system.
  5. County Criminal Record Search – Local county and municipal records will be available through this search.

Drug Testing

Drug testing is probably one of the most common screenings that employers use to ensure that job candidates will be productive employees and as a preventative measure against injuries in the workplace.

Drug tests identify illegal substances potential employees may have ingested or been exposed to. It must be done in strict compliance with laws of the state where the business is located.

Lie Detector

Most private companies are not allowed to use lie detector tests as a form of pre-employment screening. However, certain types of businesses are exempt from this prohibition, such as alarm, guard or armored car services, as well as those who dispense, distribute or manufacture pharmaceuticals.

Worker's Compensation Claims History

Screening for worker's compensation claims that a job applicant has filed in the past is not available in all states. Furthermore, in those states where it is available, it must be conducted in strict compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Credit History Screening

Pre-employment screening of the credit history of job candidates is regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Employers are not only required to obtain the consent of all applicants to perform such a search, they must also provide the applicant with access to the results.

Still, many employers consider such a screening to be helpful as an indicator of irresponsible behavior if the search turns up financial problems. On the other hand, it is also considered evidence of trustworthiness and reliability if the applicant has a positive report.

Sex Offender Registry Screening

Employers may conduct searches through registries at both the state and Federal level to find out if job applicants are on sex offender lists. This type of pre-employment screening allows them to avoid endangering their staff or tarnishing their reputation by removing sex offenders from their pool of prospective employees.

Motor Vehicle Records Screening

This information comes from a state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and is usually immediately available. Records of license suspensions, accidents, convictions, violation or any disciplinary actions are included in the results from DMV. Companies whose employees operate motor vehicles in the course of their work, such as trucking, delivery or sales, are most likely to require this type of pre-employment screening. E

Employment Verification

Employers verify previous employment listed on resumes and job applications using this type of pre-employment screening. It is also used to check the accuracy of dates of employment, job title and other related details. However, some of the employers which job candidates list on their resume or application may have policies which limit what type of information they will provide about a former employee.

Another important screening element is to verify that a job applicant is eligible to work in this country. All workers in the United States are required to complete an I-9 Employment Verification Form in order to prove their identity and eligibility.

Supervisor/Reference Interviews

Employers will sometimes want to interview references or former supervisors, in order to evaluate the ability of a candidate to perform the job in question. In these cases, the employers will usually be required to provide written permission from the applicant before anyone will speak with them.

Education Verification

Particularly for entry-level employees, employers like to verify a job applicant's degree, academic performance or major. The Family Right to Privacy Act requires that schools obtain consent from the former student before they release any type of academic records.

These reports will verify the dates students attended the academic institution, which fields were studied, the degree earned, grade point averages and the date of graduation. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covers all of the background checks included in an education verification screening.

International Homeland Security Search

This pre-employment screening will provide information regarding the possibility that a job applicant might prove to be a threat to the economy or national security foreign policy of the United Sates.

Civil Records Search

A county based search of civil records is commonly used by employers as a guide to a job candidate's character. This pre-employment screening will reveal lawsuits which are based on the applicant's failure to fulfill the terms of a contract, it will also reveal all civil lawsuits which have been filed against the potential employee.

A Civil Records Search will also make it easy to see whether a job candidate makes a habit of filing lawsuits. It can be a useful tool for determining whether a potential employee is reliable or not.

Licensing and Professional Certification Verification

Companies will always want to verify that their employees have any licenses that are required for their work. This would include attorneys, medical personnel, engineers, accountants, real estate agents and more.

The pre-employment screening will reveal whether a license is valid, the expiration date and whether the applicant has been the subject of any type of disciplinary action.

Military Service Records

Records available on veterans will show the dates served, the type of discharge and the rank held at time of discharge.

Bankruptcy Records

It's easy to verify whether a job applicant has filed for bankruptcy. However, employers are prohibited from using that information against the applicant.

Medical Records Verification

Companies are not allowed to check a job candidate's medical records under any circumstances. They are not even allowed to ask specific questions about a candidate's medical history.

Applicants may be asked whether they can perform all of the responsibilities of a job. If the answer is yes, an employer has no choice but to accept it as the truth.

One exception is when companies make medical exams a requirement of that job, and all similar ones, so that everyone in those positions are required to undergo an exam. In other words, they can't require a person who is limping to have a medical exam unless all other applicants are also required to undergo an exam as a requisite of employment.

Should Social Media be Utilized for Pre-employment Screening?

Using social media as a form or pre-employment screening is a controversial issue. While you may be able to tell a lot about a potential employee by looking at their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook account, doing so may result in legal issues for a company.

There are pros and cons to a business considering social media checks, but it is not yet typically included in standard background screening.

Questions to ask a Possible Pre-employment Screening Partner

  • What types of pre-employment screening do you offer?
  • How can you make sure that you will discover all possible results, even if you do not have a job applicant's full name, aliases, birth date or former residences?
  • How long does it take for you furnish results of your screening?
  • How do you protect the most sensitive information of the applicants you screen? Do you have a security program for written information in place?
  • Is your company, including all of your customer service representatives, located in the United States?
  • What kind of account management and other types of support are included with your services?
  • What type of accreditations and certifications do you have?
  • Can your platform be integrated into the system we already have in place for talent management, recruiting and applicant tracking?
  • Do you offer any custom solutions for different types of industries and businesses?
  • Have you had any FCRA litigation or violations? How do you assist your customers to remain in compliance?

Most Companies Consider Pre-employment Screening Worth the Time, Cost and Effort

Although it can sometimes be a prolonged process, waiting on the results of a high quality pre-employment screening can save a company time in the long run. While HR managers may become impatient waiting for a week to get the results of thorough background checks, and financial managers might begrudge their costs, the alternative might be employees who could damage the company's reputation or cause problems that will have expensive consequences.

If you need help with pre-employment screening, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.