What are Employee Background Checks?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2019
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Before a company decides to hire a new employee, it may want specific information about that employee. Job applicants can give some of that information, but matters like whether the employee has ever engaged in criminal behavior might be left out of disclosure. More and more, small and large businesses are turning to employee background checks to assure that workers they hire will fit with their company and are reputable people.

There are a number of things that may be part of employee background checks. Some companies simply verify employment history by calling former employers, which is called a reference check. If they want more extensive information about an employee’s behavior in the past, they must ask permission of the applicant to perform what is called an investigative consumer report.

With applicant permission, potential employers may ask more questions regarding an employee's character. However, another employer is not obligated to give out this information and many employers avoid giving a lot of information on former employees. Extra information can create liability issues if the information is negative and prevents a former employer from getting a job.

Other types of employee background checks include credit checks. This is becoming a very common check in many different employment fields. It can be challenging, as argued by potential workers, because not having a job may mean your credit isn’t great. Nevertheless, in most cases credit checks are a legal background check.


Some employee background checks include investigation of criminal behavior. Certain jobs require extensive criminal background checks and others do not have this requirement. In most cases, unless criminal background checks are required, people don’t have access to databases that list criminal behavior. The best they can do is search public court records in areas where the employee has previously lived, which can be costly and time consuming.

A few additional employee background checks may include investigation of drug use via drug tests and research into medical history. Medical history cannot be considered unless the employer obtains permission from any potential employees. In some countries disabilities of any kind cannot be considered as a reason not to hire someone.

Many companies don’t have time to gather the vast amount of information needed for a comprehensive check. In this case they may turn to companies that specialize in performing employee background checks. Other companies save money by searching for employee information online. Perspective employees need to know this is legal and shouldn’t put up any information they wouldn’t want an employer to see.

Any business thinking of conducting employee background checks should be aware that there are usually state and federal laws that may apply to the types of information that can be checked. For instance, in most cases businesses must get permission from the perspective employee on a piece of paper separate from the job application to perform certain kinds of checks. If a business wants to check credit rating, for instance, applicants must grant permission. Businesses should make sure that any checks they perform are compliant with state or country laws.



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