The Background Check Conundrum: How Much Do You Investigate?

Background checks all have a standard set of aspects examined for a candidate. A typical screening involves looking into a job candidate’s education and work history, checking references, checking names and addresses, and examining criminal and driving records. Credit history has also increased in popularity. But the scope of each of these aspects varies with the type of background check, especially criminal history, and many currently unemployed candidates are being blocked from positions.

An article from MSNBC calls this a “bad history lesson” – and the title essentially works two ways. The article mentions several candidates applying for positions – with the Census Bureau, in this case – and being denied for the part-time, temporary positions because of distant criminal convictions or poor credit; the majority of the candidates being affected by these hiring practices are black and Latino.

Back in March, we wrote about an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act because of the effects of background checks on minority applicants. Nevertheless, background checks are the only solution for finding if a candidate has criminal charges – even more than a decade old — relating to the job at hand. So, what is an employer to do?

No one solution exists, but with so many unemployed and unable to get jobs at the moment, a small degree of leniency is necessary to help reduce the unemployment rate. As the MSNBC article mentions, Illinois recently passed a law that prohibits investigating credit history in a background check and using such information to make a hiring decision about the candidate; as credit scores for many have been affected by the current recession, denying a job because of recent bill-paying habits will only keep many unemployed. A candidate, however, shouldn’t be a threat to the work environment, and a background check will reveal if a candidate has any criminal charges related to the skills or work environment of the position.