Employment Background Checks – Everything You Need to Know

Employment Background Checks

As employers seek to hire reliable and competent individuals, employment background checks have become standard practice. It is a thorough investigation into a candidate’s past employment, education, criminal record, credit history, and other relevant information. By conducting these checks, employers can safeguard their businesses and make informed hiring decisions.

These checks mitigate any potential risks associated with hiring a candidate who may pose a threat to the organization. Also, it is crucial to adhere to privacy laws and ethical considerations when conducting background verification. In this article, we will provide an overview of employment background checks and offer guidance on how to navigate this critical aspect of the hiring process.

Table of contents
What is an employment background check?
What are the types of background checks?
Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know?
How do pre-employment background checks benefit companies?
What can disqualify you from a background check?
Employment background check FAQs

What are employment background checks?

A background check, also called background screening, employer screening, or employment verification is an investigation conducted by an employer or a third-party screening agency to verify information about a potential candidate. Background checks are necessary for not only hiring, but also for employee retention, promotions, reassignments, and more.

The process involves searching for public records, criminal history, credit reports, employment history, and education records. The goal of these screening processes is to ensure that a candidate is honest, reliable, and trustworthy. This can be conducted for various reasons, including compliance with industry regulations, safety concerns, and risk mitigation. It provides peace of mind and helps to create a safer and more productive work environment.

What are the different types of employment background checks?

Here are the various types of employment background checks commonly used by employers.

1. Criminal background check for employment

Criminal background check are one of the most fundamental types of employment screenings. They involve searching for any criminal records associated with an individual. These checks can reveal details about past convictions, pending charges, or instances of fraud or theft. Criminal background checks are essential for positions that require a high level of trust and security, such as finance, law enforcement, and childcare. By conducting criminal background checks for employment, employers can ensure the safety and security of their workplace and clients.

2. Employment verification with previous employers

Employment verification is an integral component of the employment background check process. It involves confirming the accuracy and validity of an individual’s work history and employment claims. By contacting previous employers or HR departments, employers can verify details such as dates of employment, job titles, responsibilities, and even performance evaluations. Employment verification serves multiple purposes, including ensuring that the candidate’s experience aligns with their resume, validating their suitability for the role, and assessing their overall credibility.

3. Education verification to check academic background

Education verification aims at confirming an individual’s academic background and educational claims. This verification process involves contacting educational institutions, such as universities, colleges, or high schools, to authenticate the educational qualifications stated by the candidate. By verifying details such as degrees earned, majors or fields of study, graduation dates, and any honors or awards received, employers can ensure the accuracy of an applicant’s educational background. It helps to validate the qualifications necessary for a particular role and assess a candidate’s level of expertise.

4. Reference checks

Reference checks involve contacting individuals provided by the applicant as references. These individuals could be previous employers, supervisors, mentors, or colleagues who can provide insights into the applicant’s past performance. These conversations provide an opportunity to gather firsthand information about the candidate’s skills, strengths, weaknesses, work ethic, character, professional demeanor, and overall suitability for the position.

5. Professional license and certification verification

For positions that require professional licenses or certifications, employers may conduct verifications to ensure that candidates possess the necessary qualifications. This verification typically involves contacting the relevant licensing boards, professional associations, or certification bodies to ensure the authenticity and validity of the certifications that the candidate holds. This process helps employers hire candidates who possess the required expertise and meet industry standards. Conducting this background check can instill confidence in employers that they are selecting qualified professionals who are capable of performing their duties competently.

6. Credit history checks

Credit history checks are focusing on employees’ credit reports to assess their financial responsibility and trustworthiness. These checks involve reviewing information on their credit accounts, payment history, outstanding debts, bankruptcies, and other financial obligations. Employers may conduct credit history checks, particularly for roles that involve handling finances, sensitive information, or positions of trust. However, it’s important to note that credit history scrutiny must comply with relevant laws and regulations. It should be conducted judiciously, with a clear connection between the candidate’s financial situation and job requirements, ensuring fairness and avoiding discrimination.

7. Social media screening

With the growing influence of social media in our lives, many employers now perform social media screenings. This process involves reviewing a candidate’s online presence and activities on various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Social media screening helps employers gain insights into an applicant’s behavior, character, and potential red flags. Social media screening can reveal both positive and negative aspects, such as professional achievements, industry involvement, and communication skills, as well as potentially concerning content, inappropriate behavior, or discriminatory attitudes.

8. Medical history investigation and drug tests

Medical history checks help employers assess an individual’s fitness for a particular job role, taking into account any pre-existing medical conditions that may impact their ability to perform essential job functions. These checks also ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Additionally, drug tests are conducted to screen for the use of illegal substances or prescription drugs that may impair an individual’s judgment, performance, or reliability in the workplace.

What employment background checks that employers need to know?

Before conducting an employment background check as an employer, there are several important points to remember. Here’s a list to guide you:

1. Adhere to legal compliance

Make sure you’re well-versed in and strictly follow all the local, state, and federal laws that come into play when it comes to background checks. Don’t overlook important aspects like privacy, discrimination, and fair hiring practices. Consult with legal counsel for expert advice and guidance.

2. Proceed with consent and disclosure

Obtain written consent from the job applicant before initiating a background check. Provide a clear and separate disclosure that informs them about the nature and scope of employer checks.

3. Inspect only relevant information

Identify the specific information you want to gather through the background check, such as employment history, education verification, criminal records, credit history, driving records, and professional licenses. Tailor the check to the position’s requirements and responsibilities.

4. Maintain consistency and create policies

Apply the background check process consistently to all applicants for the same position. Avoid using different criteria or conducting different types of checks based on personal biases or discriminatory practices.

5. Determine the timeframe

Determine when in the hiring process background verifications will be conducted. It is common to perform the check after the initial interview or conditional job offer but before the final offer or start date.

6. Maintain privacy and data security

Safeguard the personal information collected during the background check. Follow data protection regulations and securely store and dispose of sensitive data.

7. Transparent adverse action

If you plan to make employment decisions based on the background check findings, such as rejecting an applicant, ensure you follow adverse action procedures. Provide a copy of the background check report and give the applicant an opportunity to dispute any inaccurate information.

8. Execute non-discriminatory practices

Avoid using background check information to discriminate against candidates based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, or age. Focus on job-related factors.

9. Focus on transparency and communication

Maintain open communication with the applicant throughout the background check process. Inform them of any potential concerns and allow them an opportunity to provide explanations or clarifications.

Related read: Employee Background Checks in India

How do pre-employment background checks benefit companies?

A successful hire can significantly contribute to an organization’s growth and success, while a wrong choice can lead to various consequences such as financial loss, damage to reputation, or compromised workplace safety. Below are the reasons why pre-employment background checks are crucial for companies.

1. Ensuring workplace safety

By thoroughly examining a candidate’s background, including criminal records, companies can identify any potential risks. This is especially important for positions that involve handling sensitive information, working with vulnerable populations, or operating heavy machinery. Background checks can reveal any past criminal activities, history of violence, or substance abuse issues, enabling employers to make informed decisions and create a safer work environment for their employees.

2. Protecting company reputation

A company’s reputation is a valuable asset that can take years to build but can be damaged quickly. Hiring an individual with a questionable background can bring negative publicity and harm the company’s image. Pre-employment background checks help employers verify the accuracy of a candidate’s claims, including their education, employment history, and professional credentials. By confirming these details, companies can avoid fraudulent candidates who may misrepresent their qualifications or work experience.

3. Mitigating legal and financial risks

Negligent hiring can expose companies to significant legal and financial risks. If an employee engages in misconduct or illegal activities that could have been discovered through a background check, the employer may be held liable for their actions. Conducting thorough pre-employment background checks can serve as a defense against claims of negligent hiring. By avoiding potential legal battles and associated financial burdens, companies can focus on their core business operations and growth.

4. Improving the quality of hires

Background checks provide valuable insights into a candidate’s past performance, work ethic, and reliability. They help employers assess a candidate’s compatibility with the organization’s values and culture. This information enables companies to make more informed decisions during the hiring process, leading to a higher probability of selecting candidates who are a good fit for the company and possess the necessary skills and qualifications.

5. Ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements

Certain industries, such as healthcare, finance, and childcare, have stringent regulatory requirements regarding employee background checks. Failing to comply with these regulations can result in severe penalties and legal consequences. By conducting pre-employment background checks, companies ensure they adhere to industry-specific guidelines and maintain compliance with applicable laws.

What can disqualify you from a background check?

While most individuals pass these inspections without any issues, there are certain factors that can disqualify you from consideration. Here are some of the common reasons why a background check may result in disqualification.

1. Criminal records and convictions

Felony convictions, especially those related to violence, theft, or fraud, can significantly impact your chances of being hired. Employers often consider the nature and severity of the offense, the time that has elapsed since the conviction, and the relevance of the offense to the position you are applying for.

2. Poor credit history and evidence of financial irresponsibility

Certain job positions, especially those in finance, banking, or positions that involve handling sensitive financial information, may require credit inspections as part of the background screening process. A history of financial irresponsibility, such as bankruptcy, excessive debt, or a low credit score, can raise concerns about your ability to handle financial matters and may lead to disqualification.

3. Provision of false information

Providing false or misleading information on your job application or resume can be a serious red flag during a background check. Employers expect honesty and integrity from their employees, and any inconsistencies or misrepresentations discovered during the screening process can result in immediate disqualification.

4. Drug or substance abuse

Some employers conduct drug tests as part of their background checks, particularly for positions that involve operating machinery, driving, or working in safety-sensitive environments.

5. Negative employment history

Frequent job hopping, terminations for misconduct or performance issues, or a consistent pattern of negative feedback from previous employers can make potential employers hesitant to hire you. Employers are often looking for candidates who demonstrate stability, reliability, and a positive work ethic.

6. Restricted licenses or professional certifications

Certain professions require specific licenses or certifications, such as healthcare professionals, pilots, or drivers. If you have a history of license revocation, suspension, or disciplinary action within your professional field, it can raise concerns about your ability to meet the requirements of the position

7. Immigration status discrepancies

For positions that require legal eligibility to work in a particular country, employers may conduct background checks to verify your immigration status. If you are unable to provide valid documentation or if there are issues with your immigration status, it can lead to disqualification from the hiring process.

Common FAQs on employment background check

1. Difference between a criminal background check and an employment background check.

Criminal background checks and employment background checks are different. Criminal background check focuses primarily on an individual’s criminal history, while an employment background check encompasses a wider range of scrutinies and verifications related to the applicant’s qualifications, work history, and character.

2. How to conduct employee background checks?

Here’s a general outline of how to conduct a background check for employment:

  • Obtain written consent from the employees
  • Identify the scope of background check
  • Streamline the best practice to perform the screening
  • Gather the necessary information from candidate
  • Confirm the applicant’s identity by matching the provided information
  • Conduct criminal records verifications at the federal, state, and county levels
  • Contact the applicant’s previous employers to verify their work history
  • Conduct education verification and professional credentials
  • Reach out to the applicant’s provided references
  • Professional license and certification verification
  • Credit history report to assess the applicant’s financial responsibility and trustworthiness
  • Assess the results
  • Handle all obtained information with strict confidentiality
  • Adhere to legal requirements
  • Make an informed hiring decision

3. How long does an employment background check take?

The duration of a criminal background check can vary depending on several factors, including the scope of the validation, the jurisdiction involved, the resources available, and the efficiency of the background check provider. The timeframe for a background check can range from a few hours to several weeks. In many cases, it can be completed within a few business days, while more extensive verification that involves multiple jurisdictions or requires manual searches may take longer.

4. What shows up on an employment background check?

An employment background check typically includes verifying a candidate’s employment history, education, and credentials. Additionally, it involves verification of criminal records, drug tests, medical history, credit history (in certain cases), reference investigations, and a brief review of a candidate’s social media presence.


Employee background verification plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and reliability of the hiring process, allowing employers to make well-informed choices and build a trustworthy and capable workforce.

By conducting thorough background validation, employers can mitigate risks associated with hiring individuals with a history of criminal activity, false qualifications, or negative professional conduct. These checks safeguard the well-being of other employees and customers and contribute to the protection of the company’s reputation and assets.

It is crucial for employers to strike a balance between conducting rigorous background checks and respecting the privacy and rights of job applicants. They should adhere to relevant laws and regulations, maintain transparency, and communicate openly with candidates throughout the process.

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