Background Checks for Employees and Job Applicants
Perhaps the most important step employers can take to ensure the safety of their workplace, and limit liability, is to conduct background checks of all new hires and, if appropriate, on existing employees. It has also been suggested that the best way to handle problem employees is before they’re even offered a job and that a careful look at an individual’s background can help guide that all-important decision-making process.
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The types of information employers might verify include visa status for foreign nationals, previous work history (paying particular attention to any gaps in employment), educational background, and any criminal conviction records. In-house personnel can perform these checks or employers can hire investigators or third-party consumer credit agencies to perform them.
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Checking backgrounds is not always an easy process. There are restrictions placed on employer access to criminal history records, military records, driving records, credit reports, medical data, and educational achievements. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is a good example of this. The FCRA essentially dictates how an employer uses and handles a credit report drawn on a potential employee.
In general, federal laws such as the FCRA, as well as similar state laws, seek to balance the interests of employers against those of the applicants. Many employers use tests, such as those that screen for drug use or psychological problems, as a form of background investigation.
State-by-state comparision of 50 Employment Laws in 50 States, including background checks and drug and alcohol testing
The special problem of how much, if anything, previous employers should tell prospective employers is a particularly delicate balance. Many employers are reluctant to give employee references for fear of being sued for defamation. But to resist this and to encourage the exchange of job performance information, many states have passed reference immunity laws.