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The Definitive Guide to Performing an Online Background Check

It can be daunting to put your trust in a stranger, whether you’re hiring a nanny, looking for in-home healthcare, or filling a role in your business. While we would all like to believe that we can take others at face value and trust their word, this is not always the case. 

When you want to find someone reliable to place in a position of trust, performing a background check can be a great way to mitigate risks. This article is your definitive guide to background checking and will cover what a background check is, what information you can and cannot seek, and how to perform an effective background check.

What is a Background Check?

A background check is a process by which a company, state institution, or individual uses a person’s full name and date of birth (and potentially other information, such as a current address) to investigate their personal history. There is a big difference between a general background check and the NICS universal background checks undertaken before the sale of firearms, and there are limitations to the information that can be obtained via either kind of background check.

What Information Can a Background Check Provide?

The information that an individual, state body, or business can legally acquire through a background check is subject to a range of regulations and protections. For example, a NICS background check for the sale of a firearm will provide information that pertains to possible safety concerns. This information includes:

  • Previous violent convictions and criminal records.
  • Active or recent restraining and protective orders.
  • Dishonorable discharge from military service.
  • Severe mental illnesses or periods of institutionalization.

By contrast, a general background check cannot provide medical records, but will provide the following information:

  • Criminal history.
  • Work history.
  • Financial records.
  • Social media accounts and usage.
  • Current and past addresses.
  • Education records.
  • Marriage and divorce records.

As you can see, much of this information could be useful to those seeking to hire someone for a position of trust or authority.

What are the Limitations on Background Checking?

The limitations on background checking are fairly strict, especially for employers using background checks as screening in their recruitment process. For example, if you are using background checks during recruitment, you must screen all candidates and not make decisions about who to screen based on factors such as age, appearance, religion, sexuality, medical records, or ethnicity.

Furthermore, as a potential employer you cannot require candidates to confirm ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexuality, gender identity, or other information that is considered protected under discrimination laws. Candidates can volunteer such information, of course, but this information cannot be allowed to influence the hiring process.

The only exception to this is seeking information on medical conditions after a conditional job offer. Employers can only do so in order to ensure that the candidate is capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the job, or to identify required modifications to a candidate’s working conditions or equipment. For example, upon giving a conditional offer, an employer may ask if a candidate has any physical disabilities or illnesses that require them to be able to sit while working.

How to Perform a Background Check

If you want to perform a background check on a person that you are considering hiring, the best way to do so is to use a reputable background checking service. Services such as Intelius and BeenVerified offer quick and reliable results and, most importantly, operate within regulatory guidelines and requirements. It can help to check a review of the top background check sites before deciding which to use.

Once you have identified a background checking service that suits your needs, you need to decide what you want from the service. If you are seeking any information you can find on a particular person simply to get an idea of who they are, this is simple; all you have to do is read the report the service provides.

However, if you are screening as a part of a recruitment process, you will need to identify your main priorities and set up an informative document detailing your employment conditions and your screening process (as well as why you are undertaking it). Informed consent is crucial to pre-employment screening and background checks; all candidates must be aware that their background is being checked and you must check all applicants’ backgrounds to avoid potential discrimination claims and suits.

Once you have your background reports on all eligible candidates, all you have to do is read the information provided and eliminate any candidates that do not conform to the terms of employment set out in your documents.

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