Your Top Background Check Questions Answered – Part Two

Your Top Background Check Questions Answered – Part Two

By Tricia O'Connor

In Part One of our Top Background Check Questions series, we dove into some background check basics, such as:

  • Are background checks required?
  • Who’s allowed to conduct background checks?
  • Is there a “perfect” background check?

If you’re new to screening or want a refresher on background checks in general, Part One is a great place to start.

But if you’re looking for more specific information, we’re digging deeper into some of the more complex questions about background screening with Part Two below.

1. Ok, I know about background checks and criminal record searches. What other background checks should I consider?

There are many other kinds of background checks besides criminal record searches. Generally, a certain type of check is used when the information to be provided relates to the position being filled. For example, if an employer is hiring a sales representative who will drive throughout a sales territory, then a check of that person’s driving record is appropriate. Conversely, if that same employer were hiring a receptionist who worked only in the office, a driving record check would not be appropriate because it is not relevant to the receptionist position.

In addition to criminal record searches, other types of common background checks include:

  • SSN Trace – An SSN Trace is usually part of all background screening packages as it provides the candidate’s residential history, other names used, and other data points needed to conduct a quality background check. An SSN Trace is done using one or more commercial databases; it is not done through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
  • Consent Based SSN Verification (CBSV) – A CBSV check authenticates a person’s name, social security number, and date of birth combination. This check is done directly through the US Social Security Administration and is permitted only for pre-hire purposes. It cannot be used to determine which candidates will advance in the selection process.
  • Driving Record – A standard driving record check identifies license validity and class. It provides a history of vehicle and driver violations, license restrictions, and suspensions and revocations. These checks are typically conducted through the issuing State Department of Motor Vehicles and will cover 3-7 years of driving history, depending on the state. Similarly, the length of time a violation remains on an individual’s driving record varies by state. For example, a speeding violation may remain on a driving record for only three years in some states (driving violations are not classified as criminal offenses). In most situations, Consumer Reporting Agencies limit reporting of driving record violations to seven years. This is because the Fair Credit Reporting Act limits reporting of adverse information.
  • Education Verification – This check is typically conducted to confirm the highest degree or multiple degrees earned by a candidate. Two methods are commonly used:
    • Academic institutions including high schools, colleges, universities, and state GED offices are contacted directly by the screening company. Information obtained may include degree verification, GPA, honors status, major, and minor fields of study. 
    • Some academic institutions (including colleges, universities, and high schools) have outsourced verification of education credentials to The National Student Clearinghouse. This is a third-party service that is authorized by the academic institution to confirm academic credentials on their behalf.
  • Employment Verification – Previous employers are contacted to confirm dates of employment and title. Depending on employer policies, additional information may be obtained such as rehire eligibility, compensation (when legally permitted), and on-the-job performance. Like education verification, some employers have outsourced verification of prior employment to a third party, such as The Work Number. Screening companies take special care when verification of current employment is requested by the user of the background report. Although employers obtain the candidate’s authorization for procurement of a background report, most screening companies require the candidate’s specific authorization for verification of current employment. This is a common practice to help ensure the candidate’s current employment is not jeopardized.
  • Credit ReportsCredit reports for employment purposes are typically obtained from one or more of the three major US credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union). Credit reports for employment differ from those done for credit-granting purposes and do not include a credit score, nor do they result in a “hard hit” on the candidate’s consumer credit report. The use of credit reports for employment purposes has steadily declined since 2008. In addition, some states and cities now restrict use of credit reports to certain types of positions, such as executives and those with fiduciary responsibilities.
  • Industry Specific Checks – Industries such as healthcare and financial services often have special requirements or special options for screening purposes. For example, a check of healthcare sanctions may be conducted against lists held by various US government agencies such as General Services Administration (GSA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and state licensing boards. Similarly, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Brokerage Check can be conducted to identify disciplinary events against brokers and brokerage firms.
  • Professional ReferencesReferences provided by the candidate are interviewed. Some screening companies conduct a standard interview, others offer custom questions, and some offer both types. Interviews are most often conducted by phone or via email.
  • Social Media Checks – The use of social media checks has grown significantly in recent years. No federal or state law currently prohibits an employer from exploring a candidate’s social media presence. Social media viewing, however, may also disclose a candidate’s sex, race, age, ethnicity, physical appearance, and handicaps – all of which are legal landmines for employers regarding potential claims of discrimination. A third-party screening company can deliver important facts about a candidate’s online behavior while suppressing potentially discriminatory information.  
  • Civil Records – Civil records are non-criminal court records and are held at county civil courts and federal civil courts. Examples of civil records include bankruptcy, judgments, divorce, child custody, consumer rights, product liability, contract violation, claims for damages, and violation of civil rights. Civil record checks are most used in executive-level screening.
  • International Background Checks (outside the US) – Conducting checks outside an employer’s or candidate’s home country is important to obtain a complete picture of a candidate’s background and qualifications. International screening has become more common and the availability of checks has increased. Special requirements may exist regarding data transfer and privacy. In addition, special forms may be required by country or source. Leading screening companies streamline the process by using advanced technology throughout the process and to automatically present required forms to the candidate for completion.
  • Drug Testing – Substance abuse testing is often part of pre-employment testing and may be conducted periodically post-employment. Most CRAs offer substance abuse testing whether as a standalone test or as part of the broader background check.

2. Does legalized medical and recreational marijuana impact employment drug testing?

The impact of legalization and decriminalization of marijuana is complex and rapidly evolving. Marijuana (cannabis) is illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act but legal in 39 US states/territories for medicinal use and 17 US states/territories for recreational use. Employers also need to be aware of the US Americans with Disabilities Act in balancing the need for a safe, drug-free workplace with the legal use of marijuana to alleviate disability-related pain and suffering.

Not surprisingly, several cases related to the legal use of marijuana have been brought to court. In these cases, the employer’s right to enforce certain drug-free workplace policies has been challenged. Thus far results have been mixed with some courts holding firm to the illegal nature of cannabis under federal law while other courts have considered other relevant factors such as disability.

Generally, all laws and ordinances provide exceptions for certain types of positions, such as police and firefighters, healthcare workers, individuals providing care to children and vulnerable adults, and positions where drug testing is required under federal or state law.

As of April 02, 2021, the following states and territories have enacted laws legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana use.

There is limited case law addressing marijuana in the workplace. This quandary for employers will continue to grow as more states and jurisdictions enact laws regarding marijuana use and testing. Qualified legal assistance is well-advised and EBI can connect employers with experienced legal counsel. For additional information on how employers can address their drug-free workplace programs, view EBI’s on-demand webinar, “Preparing for a Drug-Free Post-Pandemic Workplace.”

3. How does US screening differ from screening outside the US?

Screening outside the US has become increasingly common in the past decade. It is driven by the frequency with which individuals live and work in countries other than their home country and by employers seeking the benefits of screening throughout their global organization. Note that the information available from other countries, and the process required to obtain it, varies from country to country.

Screening requirements within and outside the US share many attributes. These include (unfortunately) a lack of consistency in law, regulation, and access requirements. Just as the US has a patchwork of federal, state, municipal, and industry-specific laws and regulations, regions and countries outside the US typically have unique requirements.

From an overall perspective, screening outside the US is likely to have longer turnaround times, a higher price point, and require special forms. Professional screening companies will be knowledgeable about screening and compliance requirements in countries around the world. Additionally, they will frequently have in-country partners who are experienced and knowledgeable regarding local and regional information sources and specific access protocols.

4. What is the difference between a screening policy and program?

A policy statement is usually part of the overall screening program and refers to the principles used to set direction in an organization. For example, a screening policy might include “Company ABC considers the safety of employees and customers paramount. For that reason, we conduct background screening on all workers.”

The screening program often includes step-by-step procedures to be followed when conducting the screening. The screening program defines the purpose, components, responsibilities, and processes for conducting background screening in the organization.

Here are three questions to consider as you build or review your internal screening process:

  • What is our current screening program? 

Examining how your applicant screening process (if you have one) works in its existing state from 360 degrees can give you great insight. You might consider walking through the process as both an applicant and as an HR professional. Do you find redundancies? Are there gaps or inefficiencies? Is the process streamlined, technologically sound, and accurate? Does it help you identify the best candidate for the job?

  • Who should perform our background checks? 

One of the biggest choices you’ll need to make is deciding who will perform the background screening process. Is your HR department capable and staffed well enough to handle the workload? Or are they already overworked and stressed out in this COVID-19 pandemic? Are they up to date on compliance trainings, federal regulations, and the evolving hiring law landscape?

  • Are we compliant?

If you do make any changes to your screening policy, it’s important to ensure you’re still within the boundaries of the law. If you are already partnered with a CRA, you may want to inquire about their compliance efforts and measures. In an environment where every hire is meaningful to your survival, mitigating risk is a top priority.

5. Do background reports ever become public information?

Screening providers who prepare background reports and employers who use those reports are required to handle screening reports securely and confidentially. For employers, background reports are often managed by the Human Resources and/or Security Department. The only instances in which a background report should become public information is when the subject of the report chooses to make the report public or when the report must be provided to a third party under legal subpoena.

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Safer, Smarter Screening with EBI

The laws and regulations that govern background screening evolve rapidly. More than ever before, employers need an expert screening partner who stays on the cusp of compliance to keep them informed and up to date.

That’s why our EBI compliance team created the Employer’s Guide to Background Screening: An HR Survival Guide – Vol. II. This FREE guide answers nearly 100 of your most pressing background check questions so you can get started on your screening journey. Download your copy today!

For nearly 30 years, EBI has delivered industry-leading comprehensive background check and drug testing solutions for modern talent acquisition. Our goal is to make screening safer and smarter with our full suite of solutions. If you’re interested in learning why we’re the most awarded screening firm in the industry, reach out to one of our EBI team members.

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About the Author

Tricia O'Connor

Tricia O'Connor

Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

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