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Blogging background checking and security issues

3.25.2005

Background Check Before or After

Council members in Pennsylvania are mixed about whether to do the background check before or after offering an applicant the position of Borough Manager. It’s not a high tension article or circumstance, but it brings up an issue worth discussing.

This is a question that Human Resources and hiring managers have to answer with regards to background checks on new employees. Should the background check be done before hiring the prospective employee, forcing him or her to wait until it’s finished and hoping they don’t get another offer in the interim, or should the applicant be hired contingent upon a successful background check?

The route that I believe is clearly the safest, and therefore best, is to conduct the background check before the new employee’s first day at work. It would be difficult for a company to defend itself in court if a new employee did something violent on his first day of work when the individual’s violent background would have been uncovered had a background check been conducted before the company opened its doors to him. Additionally, it can be very awkward to tell a person that he is hired one day and fired the next as a result of what came back on his background check.

On the other hand, background checks can potentially take a long time depending on the type of checks being conducted. It can take several weeks to receive the results of a request for a criminal record check sent to the State of Indiana, and a great job applicant will quite possibly have other offers by that time. Another difficulty is that employers often don't want to ask for the applicant's date of birth until after an offer has been made in order to avoid possible legal tangles. One way around this is to have the applicant contact (or be contacted by) the company doing the background check. The applicant can give his date of birth directly to that company and employer doesn't need to know what it is.

What is a solution? Some companies decide to go halfway. They will put emphasis on key pieces of the background check that can usually be finished in two or three days, such as searching for criminal records in counties, and then make an offer that is contingent on the success of the remaining portion of the background check. This keeps people out who have a history of endangering others, leaves the door open for the employer to disqualify applicants for employment if other negative information is found, such as falsifying previous employment or education records, and lets the employer make a fairly quick offer. One thing that should definitely be avoided is delaying the start of the background check for over a week once the new employee has been hired. This can make for a very difficult situation for everyone involved - and I've seen it happen.

Like I said, it’s not a very exciting topic, but one that a lot of people in companies are faced with on a regular basis. Hope this helps.

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