If you use background checks to assess the employment eligibility of job candidates and current employees, a background check policy can help you establish and maintain clear, comprehensive, and consistent standards and procedures. An employer background check policy reduces the need for individual decision-making and offers guidance on how background checks should be conducted within your business or organization.
In this Complete Guide to Background Check Policies for 2023, you’ll find out how to create a background check policy that helps your team conduct complete and compliant screenings throughout your organization.
What is a background check policy?
A background check policy is a set of standards that outlines your organization’s procedure for conducting background checks on job candidates and employees. These policies are typically documented in writing and reviewed by legal counsel to ensure they comply with all relevant regulations for your industry and region.
Background check policies may be shared with hiring managers or any person in your organization responsible for executing and assessing background checks. Job candidates and employees may also be given access to your background check policy to promote transparency and meet compliance requirements.
Pre-employment background screenings can verify a candidate’s work experience and professional licenses, plus get information on their criminal history, credit history, or motor vehicle records (MVRs). Periodic or continuous checks on current employees keep you up-to-date and may be required by federal, state, or local regulations. Having a background check policy helps you to conduct fair, thorough, and consistent employment background checks and screenings.
Common types of background checks include:
Having a background check policy can streamline the screening process and help ensure that searches are conducted consistently and efficiently. You can use your policy to delineate the types of screening required for different positions so your HR team doesn’t have to make individual determinations each time you hire.
Your policy can also spell out background check procedures, which may include working with a qualified consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr, to conduct accurate background checks. Establishing a uniform background check policy can help make your screening processes more comprehensive, mitigate potential claims of discrimination, and support your compliance with any applicable regulations. Background check regulations may include the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), as well as additional state, local, and industry regulations.
What’s included in a background check policy?
An employer background check policy clearly states your reasons for conducting pre-employment and employee background checks, the scope of your screenings, and the procedures you follow. A background check policy provides a framework for conducting careful and compliant background checks and a schedule for reviewing and updating your policy over time.
Background check policies typically include the following points or sections:
Purpose of background checks for your organization
A few common rationales behind employment background checks include verifying identity, qualifications, and experience. Background checks are also conducted to meet industry or government requirements.
Your background check policy can help you clearly communicate how and why pre-employment and periodic employee background checks are conducted. By documenting processes, you can maintain consistent standards supporting fair hiring practices.
Consistent scope for screenings
In your background check policy, you can identify which roles require background checks and what types of checks they need. Questions to ask may include:
- Who is subject to pre-employment background checks? Will you conduct a background screening on all candidates or only for selected positions?
- What types of screenings are included in pre-employment background checks? The answer may be different depending on the position’s responsibilities. For instance, you may wish to add employment credit checks for positions that involve handling money and finances, or motor vehicle reports if you’re hiring for a position that requires driving.
- Are employees subject to periodic or continuous screening? Decide on a screening schedule and inform employees, in writing, that you intend to conduct periodic (or continuous) checks as a condition of employment. You can include that intention in your written consent form to the candidate or employee to ensure it is authorized before it is ordered. We recommend chatting with your legal counsel about any concerns or questions.
Background check procedures
Once you’ve established what’s required, create a roadmap. Following are some of the background check procedures you may want consider as you write your policy.
Establish processes for conducting background checks
If you choose to conduct background checks in-house, create a clear standard operating procedure for your hiring team that includes all relevant local, state, and federal compliance requirements. This should also include a plan for keeping your team updated on any changing laws and policies.
Working with a third-party CRA can lighten the workload and simplify compliance. For example, Checkr provides you and your candidates with status updates throughout the process, while machine learning and automation can speed up your background checks by reducing manual work for your hiring team while still providing the information necessary for their review.
Set up disclosure and consent forms
You’ll use these forms to notify candidates that you’re planning to conduct background checks and can obtain their written consent to do so. You may want to include a background check statement indicating that a background check is required as a condition of employment.
Background check services can support your compliance needs by integrating the consent and disclosure process into your digital background check flow.
Consider your policy on criminal convictions
In the interest of fair hiring, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidelines on considering past criminal convictions during the hiring process. Employers are encouraged to make individualized assessments of candidates or employees based on three primary factors:
- The nature and gravity of the offense
- The time that has passed since the offense, conduct, and/or completion of sentence
- The nature of the job held or sought
Additional considerations include but are not limited to the facts or circumstances surrounding the offense or conduct, and the candidate’s age at the time of conviction or release. Crafting a thoughtful policy on criminal convictions can help you establish fair chance hiring practices, while also offering practical guidance your HR team can reference when the need arises.
Document your adjudication process
Create an adjudication matrix or set of standards your hiring team can easily and consistently use to assess the information in a background check.If you decline to hire, engage, or promote a candidate or employee based on information in a background report from a CRA, you should follow the adverse action process outlined in the FCRA, as well as any state and/or local processes. If you work with a CRA like Checkr, you may be able to take advantage of tech-driven workflows that streamline your adjudication process.
Provide for the secure maintenance and disposal of information
The EEOC recommends keeping background check information on file for at least a year after you obtain it (or after an action is taken based on it). We recommend speaking with your legal counsel regarding any specific retention considerations you have. When you’re ready to dispose of materials containing personal identifying information and other sensitive data, follow FTC guidelines: Shred, burn, or pulverize paper documents and erase or destroy digital files so they cannot be reconstructed.
Update your policy regularly
Plan to revisit your policy every six months (or annually) to make adjustments based on new rules or changing needs at your organization.
Background check policy best practices
Establishing a policy is your chance to codify background check best practices. As you’re pulling together your background check policy, here are four principles to consider.
Creating a company-wide policy helps employers maintain fair and transparent background check guidelines, so the same standards and procedures apply across the organization.
Plus, a company-wide policy is efficient. Instead of having to decide which candidates should undergo background screening or puzzling out how to conduct various types of checks on an individual basis, the hiring team can proceed with confidence.
Your policy can include different rules for different roles. For example, you can require MVR screening for employees who drive on the job and not for employees who don’t. However, policies should apply throughout the organization; if you require MVR checks for some candidates in a specific role at your company, you should require MVR checks for all candidates in that role.
Because federal, state, and local laws may affect background checks, consulting with your legal counsel is recommended when creating or updating your background check policy. A qualified background screening partner, like Checkr, offers compliance tools to help you manage report assessment and adjudication throughout the background screening process.
In addition to the EEOC nondiscrimination guidelines referenced above, here are a few considerations to keep in mind for conducting compliant background checks:
- The federal FCRA requires employers to follow certain procedures when conducting background checks through a third-party consumer reporting agency. Employers must obtain written consent from job candidates and provide relevant federal, state, and local disclosures, such as an FCRA summary of rights, and copies of background reports upon request. Employers should follow an adverse action process if they decide to decline a job offer based on information contained in a background report.
- State and local fair-hiring laws may affect when employers can conduct pre-employment background checks. Ban the Box laws in many states and local areas restrict employers’ ability to inquire about criminal history on job applications. In many jurisdictions, employers may conduct a criminal background check only after a conditional offer of employment is made. Employers that operate in multiple jurisdictions may want to comply with the strictest requirements to ensure their policies are in line with all regulations.
- It's common to see enhanced state and local regulations related to background screenings for certain jobs. For example, employers may be required to check the criminal histories of employees who will have direct responsibility for the care of children or the elderly, both before and periodically after hiring.
You should apply the same adjudication standards to all candidates, regardless of race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information, or age, or other legally protected characteristics. Additionally, each step in your background check process must comply with federal, state, and local laws regarding when background checks may be conducted, and how individualized assessments are made of candidates when reviewing information that appears on a candidate’s criminal record.
By creating a clear direction on when and how background checks are used, internal HR background check policies and procedures can help employers maintain consistent requirement and standards. Inconsistencies can open the door to compliance risk, a bad candidate experience, and more time spent on adjudication and dispute resolution.
On the other hand, consistent internal procedures can help deliver consistent results. A CRA, like Checkr, can help you build easy to follow digital workflows that keep your team in sync and on track with the help of automated reminders and timesaving adjudication tools.
Regulations and laws change all the time, as can the human resources needs of your organization. Stay up to date with regulations, consult your legal counsel, and revisit your policy regularly to make sure you’re meeting your obligations under the FCRA and applicable laws at the state and local levels.
Run fast, smooth, and safe background checks with Checkr
Working with Checkr simplifies your background checks, setting the stage for a background check process that’s fair, comprehensive, and compliant. We use machine learning and automation to eliminate manual workflows, reduce risk for your team, create a better candidate experience, and speed up your hiring flow—all while meeting current federal, state, and local compliance requirements. Get started now with Checkr.
The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.
About the author
Gayle writes about business topics, specializing in background checks and screening best practices.