STAY SHARP HR TIP: Employment Background Checks 101

A critical part of the hiring process is conducting an employment background check. But the employment screening company you partner with to research the applicant’s work, education and criminal history is just as critical. Entrusting the wrong firm to do the work can lead to stolen information. That kind of data breach can end up costing you more than just an employee.

Make sure you have written permission to do the employment background check. This step will protect you against claims of privacy violations. The release form must explicitly explain to the applicant exactly what is going to be researched and what information will be used to conduct a background check.

Do not just verbally tell the job candidate that you are going to conduct an employment background check. This disclosure must be in writing. Having this in written form protects you if the applicant later claims he or she was never told about the employment background check. If the applicant refuses to sign the release form, you are protected under law to not hire the applicant based on that alone.  If you do not already have a compliant release and disclosure form drafted specifically for employment background check authorization, consult your legal counsel to create a form specific to your organization.

Data that can be verified in the employment screening process include the applicant’s history in a variety of areas. Work, education and criminal record history are all reasonable areas to investigate. Credit history can be obtained, but it is suggested to only analyze credit if the position in question has anything to do with handling money transactions.  Credit history is quickly becoming a slippery slope in employment background check practices.

Limitations on what can be verified vary from state to state. Typically, in most states,  there is a seven to ten year statute of limitations to analyze certain data on job applicants. Bankruptcies cannot be looked at after more than a decade. Tax lien and collection information typically expire after seven years.  Know the time limitations in the state you are hiring in.  Your employment background check company should know this.

Certain educational records are off limits during a background check. Transcripts, personal recommendations and financial information are confidential. Often times schools will not release that information to anyone other than the former student.  Verifying degrees and certifications of an individual are most common.

Remember to keep the search relevant to the job being acquired. Looking at driving records for someone being hired for a job that requires a lot of driving is acceptable. As mentioned above, chances are you are not going to need credit information on every job candidate. Use common sense and never overstep your bounds. Safety is important, but protecting your company and its future are paramount.

Contact MBI Worldwide’s Compliance Department at  (866) 276-4624 if you have questions or concerns regarding employment screening practices and specific verification processes.


Kandi Chapman is a blogger on topics related to employment background checks, company culture and human resources.  She is President and Founder of MBI Worldwide, a global employment screening company.  Kandi is the recipient of the 2014 Silver Eclipse Award for implementing a positive company culture within her organization, and was honored as one of St. Louisans Top 100 People To Know in 2015.


Disclaimer:  Please be aware that MBI Worldwide (Midwest Backgrounds, Inc.) is not a law firm and all policies should be reviewed by an HR/Employment attorney for your companies’ best practices and all legal procedures, even if you are currently a client of MBI Worldwide. Do not use this article, or anything published from MBI Worldwide webiste or blog as legal advice or inclusively for your screening/hiring policy.