What is a Pre-Employment Background Check?

wiseGEEK Writer

There are many reasons why companies want to conduct a pre-employment background check. When a new employee is hired, companies want to make sure the employee will fit well, doesn’t pose risk to other employees, and is competent to do the job required. A pre-employment background check can help answer some of these questions, depending upon how extensive it is.

An pre-employment background check may be done to find out about a person's credit history.
An pre-employment background check may be done to find out about a person's credit history.

Some companies perform a pre-employment background check on their own. They may do very simple things like verify that the employees worked at companies listed in work history. When this is the only question asked, this is called a reference check. These checks can become more extensive if the company chooses and the prospective employee agrees to allow greater scrutiny into background.

A physical exam may be part of a pre-employment background check.
A physical exam may be part of a pre-employment background check.

Employers may, with permission of applicants, perform an investigative consumer report. This allows employers to ask more specific information of previous employers, like about the job performance of the applicant. Not all companies will give this information due to some liability concerns. An investigative consumer report can also include interviews with identified references or friends and family of the applicant.

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Another common part of a pre-employment background check is running a credit report. Businesses hiring people who will be handling money may want to be certain that employees don’t pose risk of theft due to poor financial circumstances. Alternately, people may view those with poor credit as irresponsible and not want to hire them. This may be an unreasonable judgment, since unemployment, which leads many to seek work, can quickly cause poor credit, and unemployment isn’t always the fault of the employee. As with investigative consumer reports, companies must get permission from job applicants to run a credit check.

Other aspects of a pre-employment background check can get more complicated. Companies may want to search criminal history. Unless the person is applying for certain types of jobs that require fingerprinting, most companies don’t have access to databases that will search criminal history on a state or countrywide level. Instead, they may be limited to combing public records in areas the employee previously lived to be certain the applicant has never been charged with or convicted of a crime.

Businesses can perform a few other pre-employment background check methods. They may ask applicants to submit to physicals, take drug tests or take lie detector tests. These can be costly, and many companies merely do a reference check. Some businesses subcontract these checks out to other companies who specialize in background checks, but again this depends on the needs of the company and the types of jobs available.

There can be strict laws governing what things an employer can consider when looking to hire someone else. There are also many laws regarding the types of background checks that can be performed, and the types of permission that are required in order to legally check background. It’s prudent to research local, state, and federal laws to determine the legal rights of employer and applicant in this respect.

Some jobs require fingerprinting before employment is granted.
Some jobs require fingerprinting before employment is granted.

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