Background Checks And Employment Law: Advice For Job Applicants

1 October 2014
 Categories: Business, Articles


When you apply for a new job, a prospective employer will always want to make sure that you are the best applicant for the role. Aside from the application and interview process, many prospective employers will also want to carry out background checks on candidates, particularly in certain professions. If you're applying for a new job, learn more about the most common background checks that an employer can conduct, and what your rights are in each case.

Credit reports

Some employers will ask for a copy of your credit report to get some idea of your fiscal aptitude and integrity, particularly for careers in the financial services. In any case, the Fair Credit Reporting Act states that you must give your consent for an employer to see your credit report. Unfortunately, if you don't give your permission, the employer does not have to continue with the application.

When asking for your consent, an employer must confirm that he or she may use the information to make a final decision about the job. If the employer then declines your application because of information in the report, he or she must give you a copy. This step allows you to dispute and correct any errors with the relevant financial institution. Some employers may even reconsider their decision, if you are able to show that the information is incorrect.

Criminal records

Employers commonly carry out criminal background checks on employees. While this practice has always been standard in certain professions like law enforcement, many other industries now carry out these checks on candidates. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), 700,000 people in America get out of prison each year, but state laws can make it increasingly difficult to find work.

Laws vary at state level about when an employer can make a hiring decision based on information in a criminal background check. Many factors influence the final outcome, including the type and frequency of the offenses. If you have a criminal record, it's worth contacting NELP for more advice. The project can put you in touch with fair hiring initiatives in your area, where employers are often willing to hire candidates with a criminal record.

Drug testing

Drug tests can help employers screen out candidates who use harmful drugs, including alcohol. Private employers in the United States may generally implement drug testing as they see fit, but federal agencies must follow strict procedures set out by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The results of these tests are considered personal health information, and candidates must normally sign a release consent to share the details with somebody.

Crucially, a potential employer can only ask a candidate for a pre-employment drug test when he or she makes an initial job offer. If an employer carries out a pre-offer drug test, a court may rule that this breaks the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Social media background checks

Employers increasingly use social media to gain insight into a candidate's personal life. As much of this information is in the public domain, recruiters and employers will often simply look at your profile on social networks, and you may never know about it.

If your profile is private, an employer may ask for your user name and password, so he or she can view your details. It is a criminal act to violate social media terms of service, and if an employer asks for these details, candidates should decline. Furthermore, if an employer uses information found on social media to decline an application, he or she may violate equal opportunity and privacy laws.

Skills tests

Employers may ask you to complete a skills test, to check you can do the job you have applied for. Skills tests are relatively common, but the content must only relate to the advertised role. For example, you can ask a typist to complete a typing test, but if you asked the same person to complete a science test, you could breach state and federal discrimination laws.

Background checks are an increasingly common part of any job application process, and many candidates have nothing to worry about. That aside, employers can only use these tests according to relevant state and federal laws, so make sure you understand your rights before agreeing to any checks. You can read more on any job finding website.