When it comes to interviewing applicants for a new position, employers have a lot of different things on their mind. Not only are they hoping to find the perfect employee – a person who will enhance their organization and make work easier for everyone else – but they are also trying to choose between dozens or hundreds of different potential hires. For these reasons and more, employers will often embrace anything that can help them cut down on their potential hiring pool, and one such tool is the background check.
Pre-employment background screenings can be incredibly valuable. Nearly every hiring manager uses them these days before deciding to offer an applicant a job. However, while a background check can save an employer from hiring a dangerous and violent criminal to a job that involves working with kids, or a known embezzler to a company accounting post, it can also set up a dangerous number of pitfalls that could send a company to court or worse. This is because two different organizations – the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and the FCRA (Federal Credit Reporting Agency) – strictly regulate the use of background checks for employment purposes and target employers who step outside of those regulations.
When you institute a pre-employment background check, you are ostensibly looking for a second opinion on whether or not you should hire that person. However, keep in mind that using a background check to answer the “to hire or not to hire” question will require a bit of discretion from you as the employer. While you may cringe at the idea of hiring any type of convicted criminal to your staff, the EEOC disapproves of such blanket exclusions and will come after you for discriminating against ex-convicts if you simply throw out the application of every person whose background check pings a criminal record.
If you plan on using background checks to make hiring decisions, make sure to adhere to the following three guidelines in order to appease the EEOC.
1. Focus on the severity of the offense, not the existence of the offense: Not all criminal offenses are created equal. In a sample of three potential employees, one may have a petty theft charge, one may have a drunk driving conviction, and the other may have a violent assault offense. If you consider this scenario as one where you must hire one individual, you can better understand how you will be expected to consider the severity of an offense rather than the simple existence of one. All three of these applicants have been convicted of crimes, but each crime is markedly more severe than the last. You have much less cause to reject the petty theft offender or the drunk driver than you do to disqualify the violent criminal.
2. Look at the time that has passed since the offense: One of the biggest problems with using criminal records as an automatic disqualification factor for employment consideration is that many ex-convicts have gone for years without repeat offenses and are working hard to build new lives. If you see a criminal offense on a background check, look at the date before you blacklist the applicant. If the crime is 20 years old and is the applicant’s lone offense, you have nothing to worry about and should judge that person simply on the merits of their application and interview. If the crime is three months old, you have stronger cause to be suspicious of the applicant.
3) Ask yourself how the crime relates to the job being sought: The EEOC is especially particular about this one. For a criminal offense to disqualify an applicant from a job, it should relate in some way to that applicant’s ability to perform a job. For instance, an applicant with a sex offender history shouldn’t be give a job where he or she would be taking care of children. On the other hand, a drunk driving charge would have little bearing on an applicant’s ability to perform a desk job.
About the author:
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.
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