Are you conducting the right employee background checks?

A closer look at five of the most important types of employee background check.

Lisa Lee, General Manager, Zellis Background Checks

Jan 27th 2020

Compared to activities like sourcing, interviewing and onboarding, employee background checking is often seen as a tick-box phase in the recruitment lifecycle. The truth is that background checks play a critical role in shaping the cost, speed and overall effectiveness of your recruitment, not to mention your organisation’s compliance with various law and regulations.

If you take a tick-box approach, the chances are you’ll end up undertaking costly checks that may not actually be necessary for the role in question or, on the contrary, falling foul of the authorities by either not being thorough enough, or being too thorough. You also significantly increase your likelihood of hiring someone who isn’t the right fit.

Optimising the way your organisation conducts pre-employment screening starts with understanding how the most important types of background check should work, including:

  • Education and qualification checks
  • Employment and reference checks
  • Right to work checks
  • Criminal record and public safety checks
  • Online media checks

The devil is in the detail when undertaking these checks successfully, and a lack of best practice means they’re often poorly executed. Let’s explore them in more depth.

Education and qualification checks

Education and qualification checks are among the most fundamental you can carry out on a candidate. There’s nothing worse than mistakenly hiring someone who isn’t qualified to do the job.

Although interviews are also a good way to check whether or not a candidate knows their stuff, it’s still important to verify the information they provide. In fact, we found in a survey of UK candidates that more than a third (37%) have exaggerated information on their applications.

Employee background checking techniques are becoming more advanced, but so too are techniques for fabricating qualification certificates. It’s essential not to take your chances with a subpar screening service. Don’t forget that education and qualification checks shouldn’t only include certificates from institutions like universities, but also from professional membership bodies and other reputable providers.

But be careful to only spend time and money on necessary qualification checks – there’s little reason, for example, to undertake a DVLA check for someone who won’t be driving as part of their role!

Employment and reference checks

Many organisations today value work experience on a par with qualifications when hiring from an increasingly well-educated pool of candidates.

Speaking to a candidate’s former employers is important not only to verify employment tenures, but also to secure reliable references. Alongside interviews, these help to give you a strong idea of whether or not the candidate has the right traits and attitude to succeed in your business.

Bear in mind that there are specific types of employment check depending on the role you’re hiring for. For example, for a director-level role, you would be encouraged to carry out what is known as a ‘Directorship Check’. This helps you to verify that a candidate has previous experience at director-level, while also identifying potential conflicts of interest and other factors which might disqualify the person from the role.

Another good example is the Senior Managers and Certification Regime (SMCR), which affects the banking and financial services sector. Senior Managers at organisations in the sector must be approved by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) before starting in their roles.

Right to work checks

It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming that right to work checks are only necessary when hiring people from abroad. The law states that all employers are liable for conducting these checks and that they must be done for all employees, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, to help prevent discrimination in the recruitment process and rule out illegal working.

With Brexit on the horizon, immigration laws are likely to become even more intricate. As a result, employers will be compelled to review their background checking process to ensure continued compliance. Currently fines for non-compliance can reach up to £20,000.

Criminal record and public safety checks

Criminal record checks can be tricky because while they are essential for many lines of work, they should be proportionate to the role in question. For that reason it’s best to consult with an expert before you commit time and money to different checks.

Criminal record checks are affected by a number of highly specific and complex articles of legislation. This includes the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which rules that some offenders aren’t required to tell employers about their conviction after they have completed their sentence, under the condition that they haven’t re-offended in a given time period. Employers can still ask about a candidate’s criminal record, but the law limits the extent to which this can influence a hiring decision.

Remember that in many regulated industries, companies are also required to carry out public safety verifications, with specific screening for terrorist activity, money laundering, or different types of serious organised crime.

Unless the role involves managing large sums of money on a regular basis, you should also consider whether a credit check is really necessary. Bad credit can be associated with huge business risks like fraud, but for the sake of saving time and money, you should work with an expert to judge whether or not to carry out a credit check on a case-by-case basis.

Online media checks

With the rapid growth of the internet communications – and especially social media – a huge proportion of the population now has a traceable digital identity. Online media checks aren’t a traditional part of background checking, but it’s possible to see the advantages of conducting them.

They can give you insight into an individual’s character, helping you to assess if they would be a good cultural fit for your organisation, while they can also reveal any offensive, violent or criminal behaviour. LinkedIn profiles in particular can be useful in helping to confirm the information on a candidate’s CV and understand how they are connected within their professional network, but they should never be used as a substitute for proper employment checks.

At the same time, you must be extremely careful with how you conduct media checks and ideally you should have a strong business case for doing them. This is because of potential conflicts with the law, including the Equality Act 2010. Any information revealed through online media – such as race, religion, disability, and sexual orientation – can’t be seen to influence a hiring decision, or else a candidate could claim that discrimination has taken place.

The rules of EU GDPR must also be considered. The legislation dictates that employers must secure consent from the candidate before viewing their social media profiles, and should only conduct these checks when the information is relevant to the job role in question.

If you want to learn more about the importance of candidate background checking and how to get it right for your business, check out our free report. Or find out about Background Checks from Zellis.

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