Carrying out background checks when recruiting staff

A background or reference check is generally an employers’ main means of securing information about new hires from sources other than the actual person themselves.

A check into the background of a new hire generally includes whether the new hire may be unqualified for a job role due to a record of criminal conviction shown on a police check, vehicle violations, bad credit check history, or inaccurate records shown on the CV in regards to education or employment credentials.

The background check usually includes contacting the new hires former organisation, supervisors, co-workers or educators to verify their prior employment and to obtain information about the person’s knowledge and character, thereby determining if whether or not they will be a good fit for the organization.

In a report sponsored by the National Association of Background Screeners (NABS), an average of 94% of surveyed employers indicated that they utilise employment background checks to screen new hires as part of the HR process.

Most respondents conducted checks during the hiring process, whereas a few also go to the extent of carrying out periodic checks in the interests of workplace safety.

So what does common law require from employers?

History not too long back shows that several common law legal claims arise against organizations as a result of  background screening gone wrong or in most instances, not done at all, including:

  • Negligent hiring decisions.
  • Invasion of privacy from firm’s sensitive access to information.
  • Defamation cases involving hires .
  • Interference with present employment e.g. with existing employees.
  • Tortious interference with future new hires and employment prospects of the firm.

Types of Background/Reference Checks

In the marketplace, there are a number of types of pre-employment background checks that are available to HR departments. A national police check is a good example of that. HR departments and employers can use a variety of those that best suit their needs.

Two of the more common types of checks used in the modern era are discussed below:

Employment history verification check

It is considered to be rare, however a new hire may include incorrect employment history on their CV or resume.

HR departments and sole traders frequently discover items that are factually incorrect of job responsibilities. Other frequent incorrections involve skill set, dates of engagement, prior organisations that they worked for, and job titles and roles.

Employers and business professionals should contact previous employers by way of a reference check to verify:

  • Dates of engagement at the mentioned firm.
  • Job title held at the mentioned firm.
  • Duties performed at the firm.
  • Circumstances of why the new hire left the previous employer.

Criminal history and record check

A higher utilisation of criminal history checks by HR departments and smaller businesses to prescreen new job applicants arises from the higher occurrences of claims alleging that an employer or organisation was negligent in hiring or retaining an employee or contractor who subsequently engaged in workplace misconduct e.g. violence claim or some other act that resulted in harm to a person or property. Refer to the common law points shown above. The higher utilization also relates to industries that now mandate the checks where workers may have unsupervised access to vulnerable people, like those who need to carry out a working with children check.

A number of businesses go to the extent of performing a police check on current employees, either as a matter of due diligence in the organisation or in come cases before carrying out a promotion or other change in the terms and conditions of the employment or contractorship. Checks are normally conducted on a national level. For example, in Australia a police check QLD or police check SA will be carried out on not just the state level but a national level in the Australian police check.

Third-party service providers whose main work is to conduct background screening for employers is commonly used by HR departments all over the world. These providers as a general rule, are better equipped to conduct thorough and accurate background screening, as they adhere to best practice guidelines and practices.