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A background check on a prospective employee serves several purposes. At a minimum it verifies the applicant's statements about education and prior employment. It also provide important information about the person's lifestyle, integrity and possible deviant behavior. An employer wants to know that a prospective employee will not be a liability -- either to the company or other employees. A background check can minimize the risk a company incurs.
Why a Background Check
While some employees are obvious candidates for background checks -- those who work with children or the elderly and those who handle money -- any employee can pose a risk to the hiring company. A background check is one step to minimize the risk that an employee might commit an offense that could damage the employer's reputation or harm another employee. To conduct a background check an employer can check an applicant's driving record, criminal background, references from past employers and neighbors, and social media practices. An employer is free to conduct its own checks, but if it uses a third party search firm, it must follow federal and state guidelines.
What Employers Cannot Ask
While an employer can run a criminal background check on you, there are restrictions on how it proceeds. If the employer use an outside service, it must inform you that it does, explain what is included in the background check and get your written permission before the check can be conducted. Check with your state's labor department to see what your state's laws permit. Some states ban records that exceed a specified threshold -- often seven years. Records that have been sealed may not be allowed under state law.
With so much information available on the Internet, an employer may be able to find all it needs with an online search. It does not need your consent to do this, and it does not it need to inform you of the results. The company may select an alternative candidate, giving you whatever reason it chooses or no reason at all. If you have a conviction in your past, learn what information is on the Internet before you apply. A coverup can land you in trouble. If you address the issue with the employer, you have a chance to explain mitigating circumstances.
Background Check Errors
When a company runs a background check there is a possibility that it may make an error and issue a report for a person with the same or similar name who has a criminal record. If this happens to you, notify the employer immediately. The employer is not required by law to hold a position open until you resolve the issue, but if you appeal, it may be willing to do so. File a complaint with the company that turned up the bad information. Make a phone call and submit your complaint in writing and send it by certified mail. The company has 30 days to respond to you, with an additional 15 days if you submit more supporting information during that time.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.
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