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What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Background Checks!
More than eighty percent of employers conduct some type of background check on new hires. I’ve been in the screening industry for over thirteen years and in that time I’ve done tens of thousands of these background checks.
The fact is, one in eight people has a criminal history. If you take into account all aspects of a background check such as past employment, education and professional licenses, you will find that the number of applications with incorrect (objective) information increases between 35 and 40 percent.
People call our offices all the time to see if we can run a background check on them before potential employers do. They want to know if misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct at the college will appear in their records. They want to see what the manager they did not meet with will say about them when the new potential employer calls for a reference.
Below I have provided some important information that you should know about your background check and I have tried to clear up some common misconceptions. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a standard background check. Each company does different degrees of background checks determined by the position, and based on what they are willing to spend on each applicant on due diligence.
Important Points About Job Directory Verification
1) Criminal record
Read the application carefully. It is more likely to ask if you have been convicted of a crime, not arrested. There is no need to report non-conviction arrests if the application does not request this information. Many people argue that an employer cannot legally ask if you have been arrested; however 36 states allow arrest information to be considered in the hiring decision. Check with your state’s workplace safety department to be sure.
Often, people are not sure if their arrest resulted in a conviction. Simply put, if you plead guilty to a crime, then technically it is a conviction, even if you received probation or supervision. If you were found innocent, the case was dismissed, or there was no probable cause, “nolle pros” then the case is not a conviction. There are a couple of rare exceptions to this based on individual state laws.
Never assume a case has been expunged unless you have actually paid an attorney to file for expungement and it has been approved by a judge, or you filed the proper paperwork yourself. Applicants often call our office when they don’t get hired as a result of their background check and say “I thought the case was expunged”. If you did not go through the process of filing an expungement and did not approve it, then the record is still available for viewing.
Employers are NOT limited to 7 years on a criminal record search. Some states have their own Fair Credit Reporting Act rules that limit what crimes must be reported in the past seven years, often based on the position and how much it pays. However, under federal FCRA standards, a conviction may be permanently reported. The “7-year rule” usually applies to arrests that do not result in a conviction. But arrests are not indicators of guilt, so an employer should not disqualify you based on an arrest without further investigation into the circumstances.
Even a conviction does NOT automatically disqualify you from employment. The crime must be directly related to the job you are applying for. (The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission states that employers must weigh a variety of factors when considering convictions in their hiring decisions. These include the nature and seriousness of the offense, the length of time, and whether the offense is related to the advertised position. a. ) For example, a bad check writing conviction should not disqualify an applicant from driving a forklift. However, a conviction for aggravated assault can disqualify an applicant from almost any job that involves working directly with others. It is at the employer’s discretion in this case
Question: Will any criminal convictions on my record be located regardless of the location or year of the incident?
Answer: No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t disclose it. A common misconception about criminal background checks is that they’re really easy and quick to do. Thanks to TV shows like CSI, people tend to think that you type a name into a computer and out pops every criminal offense ever committed anywhere in the country.
The fact is, employers and background investigation companies cannot access the NCIC system used by law enforcement and the FBI unless the job requires a fingerprint check to be sent to the FBI electronically.
Our usual method of determining where to look for criminal records is to run your social security number into our database which tells us where you have lived for the past ten to twenty years. This also informs us about maiden names that may be associated with you. The background screening package (already in place) then determines how in-depth the search is and how far the criminal record check will go.
As a background screening company, we would be happy if each of our client companies could afford to search every jurisdiction that the applicant has ever lived in, but this is not usually the case. We generally search between one and three of the most recent counties in which the applicant resided as well as a search of the “national” criminal records database of over 500 million criminal records archived nationwide. These “national” criminal databases are highly searchable and provide great coverage although they are not perfect. Many local and federal jurisdictions do not submit information to these private databases so there are many gaps in protection. National database searches used for employment screening do not compare to actual NCIC searches used by law enforcement and the FBI.
To make matters more difficult for screening companies, federal records are completely separate from county criminal records or national database searches. We must access a different system to check any criminal records in each federal jurisdiction where the applicant has resided.
So is it possible that we could miss a criminal record that an applicant has? Of course we could. However, if we find it, and you didn’t disclose it on the application when asked, you will most likely be ineligible for falsifying your application. This is true even when the file itself may not have eliminated you from the position. In my opinion, your best bet is to disclose any criminal record information.
Remember that most employers really want to fill the position and most don’t care if you made a mistake more than a few years ago. Many of our clients request that we not release cases that are more than 7 or 10 years old unless they are felony offenses.
2) Verification of Past Employment / Reference Check
Past employers are unlikely to criticize you. It’s true, believe it or not. Even though you’re former manager, Doug, may have called you a slacker three times a week and thought you stole the pens from his desk every time he left the office, chances are he won’t divulge that information. At least not if your old company has a human resources department. Big companies want to play it safe. They don’t want to deal with the former employee who didn’t get the next job because of something they said. Standard policy is to say as little as possible and not state opinion. Most often, when our researchers call a company, they are immediately directed to the HR department who will only publish the standard information such as: dates of employment, job title, and salary. Occasionally they will disclose whether you qualify for future employment.
The exception to the rule is small businesses with legal obligations.
When we call a small business that does not have a human resources department or legal counsel, we can speak directly with the owner or someone who has worked directly with the applicant. In this situation we tend to find more details, which could be positive or negative. If you left a small business on bad terms, and you have to list them as a reference to avoid a big gap in your work schedule, it may be good to give an explanation to your potential employer. They will most likely still call the previous employer, but at least you took the time to clarify what happened and they will know that any negativity expressed in the report may be more emotional than fact.
The other exception is the legal/ethical obligation an employer has if you were fired for illegal or downright dangerous behavior. The former employer may be open to civil litigation if they fail to disclose that you have harmed someone, acted negligently or committed a crime that resulted in your dismissal.
3) Credit check
Contrary to popular belief, a work credit report will NOT negatively affect your credit score!
A pre-employment credit report provides the employer with the exact same information as a consumer credit report that an auto dealer or bank might run when getting a loan. However, a pre-employment credit report does not show your credit score. Employers are not allowed to make judgments based on your credit score.
The main purpose of a credit report is to be a gauge of potential irresponsibility and tendency towards theft. For example, if you have an extreme amount of debt due to credit card balances and multiple accounts in collection status and you are applying for a cash management job, you might be seen as a high risk for internal theft. Likewise, if you’re applying to be a financial advisor and your credit report clearly shows your inability to manage your own money, they’re unlikely to trust you with their clients’ money.
If you are denied a job after undergoing a background check, the company you applied with should provide you with an adverse action letter stating that you may not be hired because of something discovered during the background check, and he gives you a copy of the report. If they don’t, be sure to ask for a copy. The background screening company is required to provide their office with a toll-free number in case you have questions or want to discuss a finding. The most credible screening companies will act quickly to re-check any information you dispute and correct the report if necessary.
The more you know about the background screening process, the more likely you are to provide complete information without fear of shooting yourself in the foot. Always remember, the employer is not out to get you, but their priority will always be protecting themselves from liability and finding a quality employee. So highlight the good, explain the bad and don’t try to hide a mistake because it could do more harm than good!
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