How to Run a Background Check For Employment

Kate Rhodes
December 19, 2023
6 min read

Employers often run a background check as part of their hiring process to help confirm the candidate is eligible for the job, while reducing risk and improving workplace safety. Background check searches may include criminal history, employment and education verification, driving records, and more.

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With the vast majority (94%) of employers using one or more types of employment background checks, it’s important to know how to do a background check to help ensure the process for decision-making is both fair and compliant with the law. Here's what you need to know.

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How to run a background check

No matter how background information is obtained, employers must follow federal, state, and local laws that protect employees and applicants from discrimination. There are several steps to understand how to run a background check, including creating a written company policy, ensuring legal compliance, and making fair hiring decisions based on the results.

Create a background check policy

A written background check policy provides guidelines for searching any part of a candidate’s background as part of the hiring process. Designed to help your company be compliant with federal, state, and local laws, this policy should clearly state what types of screenings will be conducted for each position type, proper procedures for conducting them, and how the results of background checks will be used in making hiring decisions.

It’s a best practice to implement background screenings across your entire organization. For example, employers can’t choose a certain age group or ethnicity to undergo pre-employment background checks as this could be considered discriminatory under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. However, you could require specific types of background checks for candidates being considered for certain roles – such as those that drive company vehicles or handle finances – and apply them consistently.

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Employment background checks are regulated by federal, state, and local laws to ensure a fair hiring process for candidates. To simplify compliance, employers may choose to partner with a background check service, like Checkr, although you can also conduct searches on your own. Regardless of how you run a background check, employers are ultimately responsible for compliance with all applicable laws, including the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), anti-discrimination laws, and any state and local screening regulations, such as Ban the Box laws. Background check laws define when screenings can be conducted, how to provide appropriate disclosure and request candidate consent, and steps for using the results in hiring decisions.

Select a background check company

Employers have many options to consider when selecting a background check company. The best background check service for your company will depend on your business needs, such as types of screening options, hiring volume, budget, and business location. Additional considerations for choosing a screening provider may include:

  • Advanced technology to increase data accuracy and speed turnaround times for more efficient hiring.
  • Positive candidate experience with a mobile-friendly portal and forms, dedicated support team, and timely updates throughout the process.
  • Integrations with ATS/HRIS platforms to streamline the hiring process by launching background checks from within your existing workflow.
  • Built-in compliance features to support fair hiring and simplify the complex web of legal requirements for employers**.**

Pre-built integrations with over 100 ATS and HRIS systems

Review screening reports

There are many types of background screenings that provide different insight into a candidate’s history. Based on your business needs and company background check policy, you’ll want to select the appropriate searches. These may include:

  • Criminal background checks to search national and local public records to identify a candidate’s legally reportable criminal history, such as felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions.
  • Civil searches to review a candidate’s federal and county civil court records to learn about non-criminal history, such as restraining orders, breaches of contract, foreclosures, and tax claims.
  • Credit background checks to review a candidate’s financial history, including bankruptcies, accounts in collections, and payment history.
  • MVR reports, also called a driving record check, to provide a candidate's driver’s license status and class and reveal any driving-related violations.
  • Employment verification to confirm a candidate’s work history, including dates of employment and job titles.
  • Education verification to confirm a candidate’s academic credentials, including dates of attendance and degrees obtained.
  • Professional license verification to review licenses and certifications for highly regulated industries or specialized roles, such as accounting and healthcare.
  • Drug screening to test for the presence of alcohol and controlled substances to support a safe and drug-free workplace.
  • Sanctions searches, also called the Fraud Abuse Control Information System (FACIS), to review federal and state government lists for penalties or disciplinary action taken against individuals in sensitive fields, such as finance and healthcare.
  • International background checks to search major offense conviction records for candidates who have lived, studied, or worked outside of the US.

Communicate candidate rights

The FCRA provides protections for candidates that cover what kind of information can be collected and reported as part of a background check. The Summary of Rights outlines other major rights under the FCRA, including the right to a copy of their background check results and the right to dispute inaccurate information.

When employers use a screening provider to conduct searches, you are required to disclose your intent to run a background check, obtain written authorization from the candidate, and follow the adverse action process if the information discovered will affect your hiring decision.

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Make hiring decisions

Once you have reviewed the results, you can make a hiring decision based on your company’s background check policy. If a search returns any information that may negatively impact your hiring decision, you must follow the adverse action process outlined in the FCRA. The process is three steps:

  1. Send a pre-adverse action notice. This document states that you are evaluating the results of the background screening and may decide not to hire the person based on what you’ve found. You must also include a copy of the individual’s background check report and their summary of rights under the FCRA.
  1. Wait for the candidate’s response. The candidate is given a reasonable amount of time (usually five days) to respond. They may dispute any information they consider inaccurate or provide additional context for the findings.Guidance from the EEOC recommends allowing the candidate to provide further context by conducting an individualized assessment. This analysis considers several factors, including the “nature-time-nature” test – the nature of the offense, the time passed since the offense, and the relevance of the offense to the role.
  2. Issue final adverse action notice: If you decide against hiring after reviewing the candidate’s response, you must send an adverse action notice explaining your decision. The notice must also inform the candidate of their right to dispute the decision and receive another copy of the background check report within 60 days.

Best ways to run a background check on someone

The best way to run a background check on someone will vary based on your hiring needs and timeline. Employers may conduct searches on their own, though this may create a heavier administrative burden for your HR team. Background research can be time-consuming and difficult to navigate – searching records from multiple agencies, contacting previous employers or references, and remaining compliant with laws based on your and your candidate’s locations.

Many employers choose to partner with an accredited consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr. CRAs provide a single point of contact for multiple background check searches, which streamlines the process for faster, accurate results. For example, Checkr’s advanced platform and extensive data network provide comprehensive results for more efficient screening.

Compliance laws to know

Background checks are governed by federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Failure to comply with applicable laws can result in costly fines or lawsuits. Among the laws you’ll need to follow when conducting an employee background check:

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to provide appropriate disclosure and request consent prior to conducting a background check. The FCRA also outlines the adverse action process.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends against adopting blanket policies against hiring someone simply because they have a criminal history. Exceptions exist if other regulations forbid the individual from holding the job in question or the offense is related to the role.
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, enforced by the EEOC, prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Ban the Box laws, also known as fair hiring laws, remove questions from job applications about criminal history (arrests and convictions), and may also affect the timing of when employers can request a background check. Currently, over 180 states, cities, and counties enforce such laws.

Get a background check with Checkr

Companies of all sizes trust Checkr for employment background checks. Checkr’s advanced platform makes it easy to manage your background check process by reducing time, human error, and potential bias for faster, fairer hiring. Our built-in compliance workflows not only support fair hiring, but enable HR teams to optimize their talent pool with confident hiring decisions. Whether you need to run 5 background checks or 500, Checkr screenings are easy to order with simple pricing–get started today.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Content Marketing Manager at Checkr, Kate is passionate about developing resources that educate employers and job candidates about background checks, hiring insights, and the opportunity to build a better future through fair chance hiring.

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