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Background Checks Do's and Don't's

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Background checks are an important hiring tool, helping you net the best applicant and fend off any future lawsuits.

They, however, come with a few legal constraints of their own, and are subject to privacy rules, disclosure requirements, and federal discrimination laws.

To help you navigate the world of background checks, here are our top "do's" and "don'ts."

Do get consent. Besides the fact some records, like credit checks and transcripts, require prior written consent, it's always a good idea to have an applicant sign off on all facets of a background check to ease liability.

Do be reasonable. Privacy laws limit just how deep of a background check you may conduct. Only look into records that are related to an employee's performance, or are business-related. If they can't be tied to the job's qualifications, chances are the records are unreasonable.

Do ask questions. This applies not only to references, but to applicants as well. There may be something missing, or a piece of information in the background check that makes you uneasy. Instead of dismissing the applicant outright, ask--you may be surprised.

Don't discriminate. If you're going to require a background check of one applicant, you have to do it for all. Also be sure not to run afoul of discrimination law in the questions you ask or the information you seek.

Don't break the law. Or, alternatively, do know the law. The ways in which you may use a criminal background check or credit report are limited by law. So read up on the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any state law that limits how employers may use criminal records. Every state regulates this issue.

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