The purpose of personal background checks is to get a feel for the applicant’s character. Personal and professional references are a good starting point, however, experts in the investigative field caution employers on using this method solely. Prospective employees are obviously going to give references of people whom they trust will provide a good character reference for them. Those references may not necessarily be fabricating information regarding the applicant; they simply may not know pertinent information about him or her.
Another method employer’s use is obtaining a credit report on the prospective employee. While privacy advocates argue the necessity in reviewing credit reports, many employers find them to be full of important information. An employer can determine what types of credit accounts the applicant has open and their history of paying bills on time. For some employers, this is a good indicator of how responsible of an employee he or she will be. Employers also may draw a correlation between credit history, job performance and employee retention. Though these conclusions are heatedly debated, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers do have the right to investigate much of a person’s credit history as a pre-employment tool.
Credit reports also contain pertinent job and address information. Some employers and private investigation firms use credit reports as a means of cross-referencing information supplied on the employment application. Though credit reports contain much needed personal information, they should be used in conjunction with other personal background check methods in order to have a well-rounded view of the applicant’s character and ability to perform the job duties.
This type of consumer report also contains information that may be valuable, although legally questionable, to the employer. Age and marital status are data that are often reported. Employers should already be familiar with privacy and equal opportunity legislation and be careful not to discriminate on the basis of these facts. The purpose of performing personal background checks is to ensure the safety and security of the company and violating Federal laws is out of the question.
Identity theft, criminal prosecutions, outstanding debt and bankruptcies are all examples of information that can be acquired through a personal background check. As an employer, it is your responsibility to only gather what information you need; information gathered should be directly related to the safety and quality of the company and more specifically, the job performed. For example, if a company needs to hire a receptionist, it might not be necessary to know whether or not he or she has filed bankruptcy recently. Other than using that as a tool to judge character, some information gathered through personal background checks may not be relevant to the position.
If an employer should require a more extensive background check, things such as who someone has dated, use of alcohol or drugs or personal lifestyle can also be obtained. Usually when a firm investigates a person’s background, they may interview neighbors, friends, associated, former co-workers and others to gain a picture of the person as a whole. Some of the information may be of interest to the employer and some may be irrelevant. It is important when hiring an investigator, to let them know specific information you are looking for.
When investigating a prospective employee’s background, it is vitally important to be honest about your intentions. Federal law requires employers to provide separate consent forms for each type of investigation to be conducted; it is also good business practice to be forthcoming about these matters. Background checks on employee’s can save companies money by avoiding potential lawsuits, theft, and costly employee retention. It is usually best to outsource the work to a private firm, if the information is very detailed. For some employers, searching at the local or state level is much more cost-effective and may produce the results they need without outsourcing.
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