Background Screens 101

by | Jan 1, 2023 | Helpful Tips

I’ve been in the HR world for over two decades. In my experience, recruiting is one of the most difficult parts of HR. Recruiters don’t always have all the information they need to make informed decisions and people can be deceiving. 

There are many tools in the recruiter’s arsenal, but today I wanted to talk about background screening as part of the process. They can be extremely valuable in screening out the candidates that are not the best fit while simultaneously protecting the culture you’ve worked hard to build within your organization.

In speaking with many hiring managers over the years, I wanted to share the three most common assumptions (and my responses) when we start talking background checks.

“The labor market is tough. I don’t want to limit my applicant pool any more than it already is.”

This is completely understandable. But here is what many employers can misunderstand. Becoming aware of someone’s criminal history does not immediately disqualify them from consideration. If you are a private employer, YOU choose what is acceptable within your organization. For a restaurant, a DUI may not be a huge deal if the person can reliably get to and from work. That same DUI for a Fed-Ex applicant, will likely disqualify them from consideration. 

“I don’t screen all applicants; I just do it based on how I feel. If I’m not sure or they seem a little sketchy I’ll run one.”

This is a dangerous practice. Making a judgment call based on what you see, thereby treating one applicant differently than another, is a discrimination lawsuit waiting in the wings. A best practice would look something like this:

Rule 1: Choose which group of employees, (i.e. office staff, drivers, servers, etc.) that your business wants to check. It can be your entire organization, or for your own internal reasons, it can just be select groups. 

Rule 2: When hiring for a position within the group, do one of two things. Perform a screen prior to making the job offer OR offer the job “contingent on passing our requirements on a background check.” 

“I would like to run background checks but it’s just too expensive.”

“According to new benchmarking data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the average cost per hire was nearly $4,700. But many employers estimate the total cost to hire a new employee can be three to four times the position’s salary.”

A typical complete screen can cost anywhere from $50-$100 which is about 1-2% of the average cost per hire. If you choose not to screen your candidates, find out something after the fact and have to hire again, you’ve doubled your cost. 

“I’d rather just do it myself. I use the internet and then check their social media sites on my own.”

This is an option, but I would plead caution. Background screening is protected by the FCRA and requires multiple legal waivers be signed prior to their execution. Remember to verify an applicant’s identity prior to any sort of check and in Colorado specifically, review the Social Media & the Workplace Law to ensure compliance.

Your employees are an extension of your organization. Background screening offers peace of mind, proves due diligence in your process if you were to ever run into a workplace issue, and shows your employees that you take the promise of a safe work environment seriously.