Small Business Owners Guide to Background Checks

Over the last decade, pre-employment background checks have become a standard risk-management tool for U.S. employers both large and small. Fear of negligent hiring lawsuits, the need to comply with state and federal mandates, and the high cost associated with employee turnover have significantly increased the number of companies that conduct pre-employment screenings.
For smaller businesses without compliance and/or risk management departments, the development and launch of a pre-employment background screening program can be somewhat confusing. There are many things to consider:

  • Documentation of policies
  • Different types of background searches
  • State or federal legislative mandates
  • In-house vs. outsourcing
  • Choosing a background screening provider
  • Overseeing the process

This article is intended to provide small businesses with a general overview of pre-employment background screening guidelines.
Documenting Your Background Check Program
Before implementing a background check program, an employer should ensure that pre-employment screening becomes part of any written policies or procedures already in place. Decisions need to be made regarding which (if not all) positions will be screened and what searches will be conducted for applicants applying for those positions. Written policies and procedures are important in maintaining consistency so that all applicants for a given position are considered in the same way.
At this stage it may also be helpful to consult with legal counsel regarding what information may legally be used in making a hiring decision. You’ll want to consider what specific requirements may already be in place for your particular industry. Chat with owners of similar companies and find out what types of background checks have been most useful and how they implemented their programs. Colleagues can very often be an invaluable resource. Keep in mind, you may want to develop several different packages, depending on the types of positions your company staffs.
In-House vs. Outsourcing Your Background Checks
Once an employer has decided what the pre-employment screening program will consist of, it’s important to sit down and figure out if it makes sense to process most of the searches internally or whether this is something that should be outsourced. There are many aspects of a background check which can be conducted in-house, such as education and employment verifications and reference checksTerrorist Watch Lists, Federal Sanctions lists and Sex Offender registries are also available to the general public. However, with ever-changing federal and state hiring laws, many smaller businesses may not have the time or personnel to dedicate to conducting these searches, as well as keeping up-to-date with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and what information may or may not be accessed in each state.
The cost of outsourcing is certainly a consideration. Any employer conducting background checks in-house will need to devote staff time and resources to the physical management of the process, including computers and a software solution to manage and track all applicants being screened.
They will also need to dedicate staff and resources to remain up-to-date and knowledgeable of evolving state and federal laws in all of the jurisdictions in which they operate. This includes FCRA compliance, as well as compliance with any applicable state data collection and storage, privacy, and/or hiring laws. On the other hand, a typical report from an outside background screening firm should cost less than the first day’s salary of a new employee. When compared with the cost of a bad hire, this is an extremely minimal investment.
How to Choose a Background Screening Company
Because there are currently so many background screening companies to choose from, an employer needs to take several things into consideration before making a decision. First, smaller businesses should look for a professional partner, not just an information vendor selling data at the cheapest price. Second, although cost is always a consideration, employers need to be sure that the selected firm is capable, experienced, knowledgeable and reputable, as well as being reasonably priced.
Above all, an employer wants to be sure that they are dealing with a background screening firm of integrity. A review of the potential vendor’s website and materials, as well as contacting current clients for professional references, should help in establishing the firm’s qualifications. Lastly, an employer should confirm their potential background screening partner is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). Membership in this organization demonstrates a commitment to professionalism and an industry-wide code of conduct.