Preemployment Screening: What Employers Should Expect
When deciding to hire a new employee, employers want to ensure their new hire is someone who fits the job description and will also be a reliable and trustworthy member of the team. A great way to verify a candidate’s credentials is with preemployment screening.
In this article, we’ll tell you about what’s involved in completing preemployment screenings, including what types of screenings employers can use, legal considerations to take into account, and best practices.
What is preemployment screening?
Preemployment screening is the process of checking potential hires’ backgrounds to verify their experience and qualifications.
The screening process may include criminal history checks, employment verification, reference checks, drug testing, credit checks, education verification, and more. Conducting the screening must comply with state and federal regulating bodies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.
Why is preemployment screening important?
Preemployment screenings are important because they give employers valuable background information needed to determine whether to hire someone, reducing the risks associated with suboptimal hires.
With preemployment screenings, employers can assess a candidate's background, work experience, and qualifications and identify red flags or concerns that may affect their ability to perform the job or fit in with the company culture.
Types of preemployment screening
Employers can consider conducting one or several preemployment screenings before sending out a job offer.
Preemployment screening options:
- Criminal background checks
- Drug testing
- Employment verification
- Education verification
- Reference checks
- Social media review
- Personality tests
1. Criminal background checks
Criminal background checks investigate if a candidate has a criminal history, whether felony or misdemeanor criminal convictions or pending charges.
During this background screening, an employer checks national, federal, state, county, and possibly city criminal court databases to report information about a candidate's criminal history. The screening will generally not include any minor infractions, such as traffic violations, or any civil suits. If a foreign conviction exists, it will likely not be revealed unless the investigation includes a search in the specific country involved.
A criminal background check is an important part of preemployment background checks because it enables the employer to evaluate prospective employees for positions involving significant levels of trust or access to sensitive information or valuables.
Employers can complete a criminal background check with the following steps:
- Obtain written consent from the candidate. It’s important, and generally legally required, to get written consent from the candidate before doing a criminal background check, informing them that you’re completing a background check and making them aware of what information you plan to collect.
- Collect information. An employer must get the necessary information from the candidate, including full name, date of birth, and Social Security number.
- Conduct the check. There are various ways to check a criminal background, including checking records from county courthouses, state repositories, and federal databases. Some companies specialize in these checks, making it easier for the employer to find all of the pertinent information.
- Review the results. Once the check is complete, it’s up to the employer to evaluate the information. If the candidate does have a criminal history, the employer must consider whether their charge or conviction could affect the job.
- Make a decision. If the employer decides that the candidate’s criminal history is relevant to the position, they will take action (e.g., not hiring the candidate). The employer must comply with state laws and the Federal Trade Commission, which includes sharing a copy of the report with the candidate and allowing them to dispute inaccurate information.
When completing a criminal record check, employers must comply with all laws and regulations of their specific area and ensure they aren’t discriminating against candidates based on criminal record.
2. Drug testing
Drug testing involves testing the candidate to determine whether they have recently used illegal drugs or alcohol. Employers use drug tests mainly to promote workplace safety, prevent drug-related accidents, and improve productivity.
Completing a drug test can be an important part of preemployment screenings, especially for jobs involving safety-critical roles (e.g., health care, law enforcement, and transportation).
The most common method of drug testing is conducting a urine test. In this case, an employer will request the candidate provide a urine sample, which will then be sent to a certified laboratory for analysis. Once the lab has the results, they will share them with the employer.
When drug testing, it’s important for employers to conduct tests fairly, securely, and privately. Again, numerous legal requirements exist around this element of preemployment screening. You may want to engage an expert in employment law to help navigate the process.
3. Employment verification
Employment verification is the preemployment screening where employers confirm a candidate’s job history. The employer (or a third-party verification service) will check to see that a candidate's work history is accurate.
This step of employment verification is important because it can help to identify any exaggerations or lies candidates may have made about their professional experiences.
Consider a few ways to complete employment verification, including:
- Contacting the previous employer. An employer can reach out to the candidate's previous employers directly to verify that the details shared by the candidate are accurate.
- Requesting documentation. An employer can request that the candidate share previous employment documentation (e.g., pay stubs, tax forms, or W-2s).
- Reference checks. The employer can request specific references from the candidate whom they can contact to confirm employment history.
- Third-party verification. Employers can utilize third-party verification services that specialize in employment verification to obtain information about an individual's employment history.
Many employers use a combination of these methods, but the specific process varies by company.
4. Education verification
The preemployment screening of education verification involves a potential employer confirming a candidate's education credentials.
Education verification ensures a candidate has provided accurate education history on their application and resume.
A company can check a candidate’s education history by contacting the school that the candidate listed and requesting a degree or diploma verification, which will give the dates of attendance and whether or not they graduated. The employer may also request transcripts from the candidate.
An employer must obtain written permission from a candidate before checking their education history beyond the basic attendance verification. Compliance with Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is required.
5. Reference checks
Reference checks can be used to verify a candidate's employment history and professional background. Employers can contact the candidate's previous employers or other references.
A reference check can confirm that the candidate’s resume and application details are accurate. It also allows the employer to get a first-hand account of the candidate’s performance level at their previous jobs.
To complete a reference check, the employer will ask the candidate for a list of references and then the employer will contact the references and ask a series of questions. The questions can relate to work history, job performance, and, depending on the specific role, the candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and other related factors relevant for the potential position. An employer can check references by calling or emailing each person.
Reference checks are important because they can give the employer direct insight into how the candidate performs in a working environment. Be aware, however, that some companies enforce “no reference” policies and will only provide confirmation of employment dates.
6. Social media review
The social media review is a newer preemployment screening. Some companies may check a candidate’s social media profiles and activities to see what they post, like, and comment on. The most common social media sites checked include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok.
Employers check social media primarily to see if the candidate has any “red flags,” including inappropriate behavior, offensive language, or discriminatory views.
It’s important for employers to note that social media reviews should only be conducted for job-related reasons and with the candidate's consent. Information gleaned that adversely impacts a hiring decision based on protected categories such as race, gender, or disability may lead to legal issues.
7. Personality tests
Personality tests are a way for employers to evaluate a candidate’s personality traits to see if they are a good fit for the company and position. These preemployment tests are commonly used to assess communication style, leadership skills, decision-making skills, and work habits.
Employers can choose from several types of personality tests, including:
- Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI)
- The DiSC Profile
- 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)
- The Caliper Profile
- The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI)
Employers should keep in mind that personality tests must be administered in a fair and ethical manner, with proper informed consent from candidates and privacy protection.
Legal considerations for preemployment screening
Employers should be aware of all legal considerations when planning to start preemployment screenings. This ensures compliance with local and federal laws and protects the rights of job candidates.
Preemployment screening legal considerations:
1. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
Under the agency of the Federal Trade Commission, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies.
This means that if an employer uses a third-party screening company for any preemployment screening, they must comply with the FCRA. This involves obtaining the candidate's written consent, providing a clear and conspicuous disclosure, and providing the candidate with a copy of the report and a summary of their rights, including the process for disputing inaccurate information.
2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and related conditions, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Note that some classes of protection have been recently added and more may be included in the future.
Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The EEOC laws apply to all aspects of work, including hiring.
It’s important for employers to keep this in mind during the preemployment screening process because they need to ensure they’re hiring fairly and not making decisions based on factors outside of the job and its requirements.
3. State laws
When hiring, employers must know and understand their state’s employment laws, as laws are constantly changing; some states can be more strict than others. If your company has locations in multiple states, ensure you understand the laws in each to avoid any issues.
For example, “ban the box” laws, which restrict how and when employers may ask applicants about their criminal histories, have been enacted in certain jurisdictions. Contact state labor offices to get current information on relevant hiring and preemployment screening regulations.
4. GDPR laws
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union (EU) regulation that governs how personal data is collected, processed, and stored.
When conducting preemployment screenings, employers need to comply with GDPR laws to protect the privacy and rights of candidates.
During your preemployement screening, keep these GDPR laws in mind:
- Consent. Employers should get the candidate’s consent before handling their personal data. Employers must also inform the candidates about the purpose of obtaining the data, the type of data collected, and the rights they have over their own data.
- Data minimization. Employers should only ever collect the minimum amount of personal data needed to complete the preemployment screening.
- Security. When handling personal data, employers need to use appropriate security measures to protect the data collected, so no one has unauthorized access to the candidate’s personal information.
- Retention. Employers should only retain a candidate’s personal data for as long as necessary to complete the preemployment screening. Afterward, the employer should promptly delete the personal data.
Best practices for preemployment screening
Employers should follow best practices to ensure that their preemployment screening is effective and efficient and that they’re getting the most out of the process.
Here are some best practices for preemployment screening:
- Develop a screening policy. Employers should have a written policy that outlines the types of preemployment screening conducted and the criteria used to evaluate candidates. The policy must be applied fairly and consistently across all candidates.
- Train hiring managers. An employer can train their hiring managers within their human resources department to ensure they have a good understanding of the preemployment screening process and that they’re following the screening policy put in place.
- Use a reputable screening provider. A reputable screening provider can provide a range of services, such as criminal background checks, employment verifications, education verifications, and drug testing, to help employers make informed hiring decisions. Using a reputable screening provider can help employers obtain accurate and reliable information about candidates, ensure laws are being followed, streamline the screening process, and protect the privacy of the candidates.
- Consider the candidate's rights. Employers should keep all information obtained through preemployment screening confidential and secure and share it only with authorized personnel on a need-to-know basis.
- Get consent from the candidate. Before beginning any preemployment screenings, employers should obtain the candidate's informed consent and clearly explain the screening’s purpose, scope, and consequences. They must provide any reports or information on adverse decisions in compliance with applicable laws.
By following these preemployment best practices, employers can work to identify the best job candidates while still protecting their rights and privacy. After all, it’s important to start any new professional relationship with trust and respect. This will set the tone for your time working together and show that you’re committed to doing the right thing.
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Preemployment screening is the process of verifying the background, credentials, and qualifications of potential employees before making a hiring decision. Preemployment screenings are important because they reduce the risk of hiring mistakes, comply with legal requirements, and improve workplace safety.
Implementing the best preemployment screenings possible may seem like a lot of work if you’re a smaller company, but you have an easier option. Upwork gives you the opportunity to work with recruitment specialists to improve your hiring process and find the right candidates for your specific needs. Check out Upwork’s highly skilled recruiters and recruitment consultants and get your business growing!
Upwork does not provide tax or legal advice. Each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze the laws that apply to their business endeavors.