The practice of conducting an employment background check is common in today’s job market. There are many reasons for this, including the increased concern about overall security in public places due to terrorism and incidents of domestic violence that carry over into the workplace. Lawsuits against employers for these occurrences are increasing as well, motivating companies to conduct an employment background check on every applicant regardless of the industry or profession.
Typical Employment Background Check Sources
There is a long list of information that employers and human resources professionals look at in a typical employment background check. Most of this data is available through a search of public records provided by various official sources such as law enforcement agencies, educational and medical institutions, court archives and military databases. Financial institutions are also the source of information in some cases.
Typical Information Obtained in a Background Check
Many aspects of a person’s life are available to an employer through a search of public records. His medical history, educational background, driving record, military status, arrest record and even property ownership and bankruptcy history are easily obtained in a background check. Interviews with neighbors and former employers and personal and character references also provide information that touches on many private aspects of a person’s life that may or may not seem relevant to the applicant.
There are many “land mines” that an employer must avoid while conducting a background check. Discrimination presents a legal liability that will cost a company dearly if successfully litigated in a court of law. A background check may not focus on a person’s race, national origin, gender, age or religious beliefs. This is true regardless of the nature of the applicant’s financial dealings, charitable donations, or personal associations that may be revealed during a background check.
There are laws to protect an individual’s right to privacy, especially as to her financial history and credit standing. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (originally passed in 1970 and codified in United States Code, Title 15, Section 1681) is intended to regulate the dissemination and collection of consumer information, including a person's credit history. Several amendments have been included in this act over the years to add to the safeguards of a person’s privacy, such as the Consumer Credit Reporting Reform Act (1996), the Consumer Reporting Employment Clarification Act (1998) and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (2003).
It is not uncommon for employers or human resources managers to conduct an online search of databases for information on an applicant. In fact, some background checks include a scan of social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, or other websites that are available for personal postings, such as YouTube and Google. According to Business Management Daily, searching these types of databases may constitute an invasion of privacy and possibly result in a failure-to-hire lawsuit if the employer accessed photos, biographical data or other personal information during the background check and did not hire the applicant based on other relevant criteria that disqualified the applicant.