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What is a pre-employment background check?

Cymone Carlson, SHRM-SCP
by Cymone Carlson, SHRM-SCP on July 7, 2022

Pre-employment background checks are a crucial step in the hiring process.If you’re wondering whether to conduct a pre-employment background check before hiring a candidate, the answer is YES.

A pre-employment background check is a step in the hiring process that companies use to verify that a candidate is who they claim to be. It provides an opportunity for the person's criminal record, education, employment history, and more to be reviewed.

When done correctly, a pre-employment background check not only helps to protect the employer but offers fair opportunities to job seekers. But, this can be a tricky balancing act.

Let’s review a few commonly asked questions about background checks to shed light on the ways you can use them to avoid hiring pitfalls and hire great employees. 

A pre-employment background check provides a comprehensive overview of a candidate’s records to substantiate their employment application. Based on company and job type, the following may be included: 

  1. Employment
  2. Education
  3. Criminal records
  4. Motor vehicle and driver’s license records
  5. Professional licenses


When should I perform a pre-employment background check?

The pre-employment background check should come later in the hiring process so that an employer can determine whether the candidate has the experience, education, and skills to do the job before knowing things about the candidate’s past, like his or her criminal background.

A movement called Ban the Box aims to persuade employers to remove the employment application checkbox that questions whether an applicant has a criminal record. The idea is not that employers shouldn’t know a candidate’s background, but that they should consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction in their past.

During the application process, make sure to disclose your intention to conduct a pre-employment background check and have your potential employees sign an acknowledgment. The employment application should include: 

  • A request for the applicant’s name, address, contact information, work experience, and sometimes education (not high school dates), etc.
  • Verbiage certifying the validity of information to include any supplemental documentation
  • A place for the applicant’s signature

After reviewing resumes, interviewing potential candidates, and nailing down your list of finalists, then proceed with a pre-employment background check.

EEOC: What Employers Need to Know About Pre Employment Background Checks


How should I handle a conviction on a criminal background check?

If a conviction is confirmed as part of the pre-employment background check, employers should consider the following factors before deciding whether to hire the candidate: 

  • The nature of the conviction - Was it a violent offense?
  • Does the crime relate to the job?
  • How much time has passed since the offense?
  • How many times were similar crimes committed?
  • What was the age of the applicant at the time of the conviction?
  • Has the individual held another position successfully since the incident? 

For example, if an employer recruits a receptionist, and the candidate’s background uncovers a conviction for driving while under the influence, it may not carry much weight. The receptionist will not be driving a company vehicle, so the conviction isn’t directly related to the job.

However, if an employer recruits a truck driver, the conviction may be consistent with business necessity for disqualification based on the essential functions of the job. 

The result of a pre-employment background check may lead you to disqualify a candidate. In this case, you must, in good faith, believe that the conviction harms their ability to do the job and/or will harm or cause injury to people, property, the business’ reputation, or business assets. 


What are the best practices for designing a background check policy?

  • Establish a policy that ensures the appropriate treatment of applicants and employees.
  • Ensure the policy includes the following verbiage, “Equal opportunity employer prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, and any other characteristic protected by local, state, or federal law.”
  • Provide the individual an opportunity to offer additional information through an individualized assessment process.
  • Strictly follow relevant EEOC, FCRA, federal, state, and local regulations.
  • Avoid establishing a blanket policy that restricts hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds. This can inadvertently discriminate against minorities because minority arrests and convictions are statistically higher.

At FrankCrum, we help our clients establish a pre-employment background check policy that ensures the appropriate treatment of applicants and employees who have either committed criminal activity before employment or become involved in illegal activity during employment. Employers must follow all relevant EEOC, FCRA, federal, state, and local regulations. As a bonus, FrankCrum provides criminal record background services to its clients.

Cymone Carlson, SHRM-SCP
Cymone Carlson, SHRM-SCP

Cymone Carlson is a FrankAdvice Sr. Human Resources Consultant. She is a Senior Certified Professional in Human Resources (SHRM-SCP) and holds a Master’s degree from the University of Florida. Cymone has firsthand HR experience working within nonprofits, manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, hospitality, and government contracts.