How To Do a Background Check: A Guide for Employers

How To Do a Background Check: A Guide for Employers - Shiftbase
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In this article we will dive into how background checks can help employers determine if a job candidate is suitable for a role before offering employment.

The definition of background checks

Background checks comprehensively examine a person's history and records. Employers or other organizations typically conduct these checks to assess candidates' suitability for a particular job, program, or service.

Key Purpose

A background check is to verify a person's identity, check for any criminal history, confirm their employment or education history, and check for any other red flags that may suggest they are not a good fit for a particular position or program.

The ultimate goal is to protect the safety and well-being of employees, clients, and the general public.

Types of background checks

Background checks can include various components, depending on the type of check and the specific requirements of the employer or organization conducting the check. Here are some common components of background checks:

Criminal Record Check

Criminal background checks search for an individual's criminal history. Criminal record checks aims to identify any criminal convictions or charges that an individual may have had. This information can be useful for employers looking to hire individuals for positions requiring high trust and responsibility.

To carry out a criminal record check, the employer or background check company may use various methods, including searching court records, arrest records, and other public records. In some cases, fingerprinting may be required to verify the identity of the individual being checked.

Employment History Verification

Employment background checks or history verification is a type of background check that confirms an individual's previous employment history. The purpose of this check is to verify that the information provided by the candidate is accurate and to identify any potential issues with the individual's work history, such as gaps in employment or inconsistencies in job titles.

To verify employment history, the employer or background check company may contact the individual's past employers to confirm their employment dates, job titles, and responsibilities. In some cases, the employer may also request a reference from the previous employer to verify the individual's skills and abilities.

Education Verification

Education verification is a background check that confirms an individual's educational credentials, such as their degrees or certifications. This check aims to verify that the individual has the required education and training for the job.

To carry out an education verification, the employer or background check company may contact the educational institution where the individual received their degree or certification to confirm their attendance and graduation. The employer may also request a copy of the individual's transcripts to verify their academic performance.

Reference Check

A reference check is a type of background check that involves contacting individuals who can provide information about the candidate's character, work ethic, and abilities. This check aims to gain insight into the candidate's past performance and verify the information provided by the candidate.

To carry out a reference check, the employer or background check company may contact individuals provided by the candidate as personal references or may seek out additional references on their own. The individuals may be contacted via phone or email and asked to provide information about the candidate's past performance, strengths, and weaknesses.

Credit History

A credit history check is a background check that looks at an individual's credit report to assess their financial responsibility. This check aims to identify any potential financial issues that may make the individual unsuitable for certain positions.

To carry out a credit history check, the employer or background check company may obtain a copy of the individual's credit report from a credit bureau. The report may include information on the individual's credit score, payment history, and outstanding debts.

Drug Test

A drug test is a type of background check that involves testing an individual's urine, blood, or hair for drugs or alcohol. This check aims to identify any substance abuse issues that may impact the individual's ability to perform their job safely and effectively.

The employer or background check company may require the individual to provide a urine, blood, or hair sample to carry out a drug test. The sample is then analyzed in a laboratory to identify any substances that may be present.

Identity Verification

Identity verification is a type of background check that confirms an individual's identity. This check aims to ensure that the individual is who they claim to be and to prevent identity theft.

To verify identity, the employer or background check company may require the individual to provide a government-issued ID, such as a driver's license or passport.

The employer may also require the individual to complete an identity verification questionnaire that includes questions about their personal information and background.

Credential Verification

A credential verification check involves verifying an applicant's professional licenses, certifications, or degrees. 

This can involve contacting the issuing organization or educational institution to confirm the credential's validity. Credential verification checks are often conducted for positions that require specific qualifications or licenses.

DBS Check

A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check is a type of background check conducted in the UK for positions that involve working with children or vulnerable adults. 

Enhanced DBS checks involve reviewing an applicant's criminal history, including any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands, or warnings. The check is conducted by submitting an application and paying a fee to the DBS.

DVLA Checks

DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) checks involve verifying an applicant's driving record and history of any traffic violations or accidents. This type of check is often required for positions that involve driving company vehicles or transporting goods. The check is conducted by accessing the applicant's driving record through the DVLA database.

How to do a background check: Step by step process

Group of young colleagues using laptop at office

Once an offer is ready to be made, it's typical for a background check to take place. That being said, some businesses will conduct a background check report on multiple applicants to make decisions regarding employment more easily and accurately.

There are four main steps to take to ensure compliance:

#1. Disclosure

Before conducting a background check, the employer or organization must disclose to the applicant that a background check will be conducted. This disclosure should include the nature and scope of the background check and the applicant's rights under applicable laws and regulations.

#2. Consent

 The employer or organization must obtain the applicant's written consent to conduct a background check. This consent should be separate from other application or hiring documents and clearly explain what information will be collected and how it will be used.

#3. Investigation 

 Once consent has been obtained, the employer or organization can conduct the background check. This typically involves collecting information from various sources, such as government agencies, educational institutions, previous employers, and credit reporting agencies.

#4. Review

After the background check, the employer or organization should review the results to determine if the applicant meets the requirements for the position. 

If adverse information is uncovered, the employer must follow applicable laws and regulations regarding an adverse action, including notifying the applicant and providing an opportunity to dispute the information.

Who carry's out the background screening?

Human Resources personnel typically use a Background Check Company, Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA), or HRIS software when searching for background information. Thus enabling them to gain access to the most accurate and thorough data available.

Benefits of pre-employment screening

Conducting background checks can benefit both employers and employees in several ways. Here are some potential benefits of conducting background checks:

For Employers

Here are the benefits for employers:

  • Improved quality of hires: Background checks can help ensure that the individuals hired are qualified, competent, and have a history of responsible behavior. This can result in better job performance and higher productivity.

  • Reduced risk of legal liability: By conducting background checks, employers can reduce the risk of negligent hiring lawsuits or claims of workplace theft, violence, or fraud.

  • Increased safety and security: Background checks can help identify individuals with a criminal history or other potential risk factors that may threaten the safety and security of the workplace or other employees.

  • Protecting company reputation: By conducting thorough background checks, employers can help prevent negative incidents or scandals that could harm the company's reputation.

  • Ensure Compliance with legal requirements: Certain industries and positions may require background checks in the recruitment process to comply with legal requirements, such as security clearances or working with vulnerable populations.

  • Fraud Prevention: Background checks can help identify falsehoods or concealment attempts.

For Employees

  • Improved safety and security: Background checks can help create a safer and more secure workplace for employees, particularly those in high-risk or sensitive positions.

  • Fairness and consistency: By conducting background checks on all applicants, employers can ensure fairness and consistency in hiring.

  • Protection against false accusations: Background checks can help protect employees against false accusations of criminal behavior or other red flags that may come up during the hiring process.

  • Ensuring a positive work environment: By hiring qualified and responsible individuals, employers can help create a positive work environment conducive to productivity, teamwork, and success.

The potential risks and disadvantages of background checks

While pre-employment checks can be useful for employers and employees, there are also potential risks and disadvantages associated with these checks. Here are some potential drawbacks to consider:

For Employers

  • False positives and inaccurate information: Background checks may sometimes contain inaccurate or outdated information, leading to false positives and unfairly disqualifying qualified candidates.

  • Increased costs and delays: Conducting background checks can be time-consuming and expensive, particularly if the employer hires a third-party vendor to conduct the checks.

  • Legal Compliance: Employers must comply with federal and state laws when conducting background checks, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and state-specific "ban the box" laws, which prohibit employers from asking about an applicant's criminal history on job applications.

  • Discrimination: If not conducted properly, background checks may lead to discrimination against certain groups of applicants, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged.

  • Privacy concerns: Background checks may involve accessing sensitive personal information, such as criminal records or credit reports, which may raise privacy concerns for some applicants.

For Employees

  • Invasiveness and discrimination: Background checks may feel invasive to some applicants and may result in discrimination against individuals with a criminal history or other risk factors.

  • Inaccurate information: Background checks may contain inaccurate or outdated information, which can unfairly harm an applicant's chances of being hired.

  • Delayed hiring process: Background checks can be time-consuming and may delay the hiring process, frustrating applicants.

  • Lack of transparency: Some employers may not be transparent about the background check process or the reasons for disqualifying an applicant based on the check results.

  • Cost: Some employers may require applicants to cover the background check cost, which can financially burden some applicants.

Laws regarding background checks for employers

Employers must comply with both federal and state laws when conducting these checks.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The most important of these laws is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires employers to take certain steps when using background checks as part of the hiring process.

These steps include:

  • Obtaining written permission from applicants before conducting a background check.
  • Conducting the background check by all applicable laws.
  • Providing applicants with a copy of their background check results.
  • Notifying applicants if they are being denied employment based on the information found in the background check.

Same Questions for Every Applicant

Employers must be consistent and equitable when inquiring about an applicant's background, no matter the person's race, ethnicity, color of their skin, sex identity (including pregnancy status), religious beliefs or practices, physical or mental disability traits (or family medical history), and age if they are 40 years old or older.

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Rights of employees regarding background screening

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Employers cannot act negatively against you if you stand up for your right to be free from discrimination or harassment.

Useful Read: How to Build a Comprehensive Anti-Harassment Policy

Being vocal about discriminatory practices in the workplace is known as "protected activity" and can include complaining, filing a claim with the EEOC, or being involved in anti-discrimination proceedings.

If You're Denied a Job or Promotion

Suppose you are denied a job or promotion due to data in your background reports. In that case, the employer is required by law to inform you via spoken word, written correspondence, or electronically the following:

  • Reporting Company Information: The background reporting company's name, address, and phone number.

  • Free Report Rights: You can get an additional free report from the background reporting company. You must ask for it within 60 days of the employer's decision.

  • The Credibility of the Decision: The Employer must ensure that the background reporting company didn't make the decision about not hiring or promoting you and can't give specific reasons for it, and you have the right to dispute information on your report that is inaccurate or incomplete with the background reporting company.


The importance of employee background checks cannot be overstated. When used correctly, background checks are a great way for employers to ensure the safety and security of an organization, as well as to find the most qualified candidates for the job.

For employees, background checks can help protect them from being taken advantage of in the workplace by employers who do not consider their qualifications or experience.

With many methods and tools available to employers and employees alike, everyone must be comfortable with how they conduct and engage in background checks throughout the hiring process.

Topic: HRM
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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