Background checks are a crucial practice for organizations in today’s fast-paced digital world. GCheck’s guide, “Background Check Best Practices & Challenges,” offers a comprehensive exploration of the types of checks, legal considerations, challenges, and pitfalls. The guide emphasizes the importance of compliance with laws like the FCRA and consistency and transparency in these processes. It’s an indispensable resource for organizations striving to ensure the safety, integrity, and trustworthiness of their workforce.

Background Check Best Practices & Challenges

Best Practices for Contractors

Organizations must balance due diligence and efficiency when conducting background checks on contractors. Here are some common types of checks that are typically conducted for contractors:

Background Check Types for Contractors

Criminal Background Checks

Criminal history checks are often essential, especially when contractors can access sensitive information, people, or property. These checks can reveal convictions, pending charges, and arrests.

Credential Verification

Contractors may need to provide evidence of their qualifications and credentials, such as licenses, certifications, or degrees, depending on the nature of the work they’ll be performing.

Reference Checks

Contacting references can provide insights into a contractor’s work history, reliability, and reputation. This step is particularly crucial when hiring contractors for long-term or critical projects.

Financial Checks

In some cases, organizations may conduct credit checks to assess a contractor’s financial stability and responsibility, especially for contracts involving financial responsibilities.

Identity Verification

Confirming the contractor’s identity ensures you deal with the right person and helps prevent identity fraud.

Drug Testing

Depending on the nature of the work, drug testing may be necessary, especially for safety-sensitive roles or contracts involving government regulations.

Reminders for Contractors

Background checks on contractors have legal restrictions and best practices for compliance and fairness.

  1. Compliance with FCRA: FCRA applies to third-party consumer reporting agencies used for background checks on contractors. Adhere to FCRA requirements, including obtaining written consent, disclosure, and adverse action procedures.
  2. Ban-the-Box Laws: “Ban-the-Box” laws delay background checks until after a job offer and limit when employers can ask about criminal history.
  3. Privacy and Confidentiality: Respect privacy rights and keep personal information confidential during background checks.
  4. Data Security: Safeguard the data collected during background checks to protect it from unauthorized access and potential breaches.
  5. Transparency: Be transparent with contractors about background checks and share reports if requested.

Contracts and agreements define terms for contractors with background checks.

  1. Scope of Background Checks: Specify background checks and disqualification criteria in the contract.
  2. Confidentiality Clauses: Include confidentiality clauses in contracts for sensitive information.
  3. Compliance with Laws: Contracts should explicitly state that contractors must comply with all applicable laws, including background checks.
  4. Indemnification: Consider including clauses that address indemnification, outlining who is responsible for legal and financial consequences arising from background checks.
  5. Dispute Resolution: Include provisions for dispute resolution in case any issues arise regarding the background check process or its results.
  6. Termination: Specify under what circumstances the contract can be terminated based on background check results and outline any notice periods.

Best Practices for Employees

Employee background checks are a critical part of the hiring process to ensure the suitability and trustworthiness of candidates. Here are some common types of checks typically conducted for employees:

Background Check Types for Employees

Criminal Background Checks

These checks reveal an individual’s criminal history, including arrests, convictions, and pending charges. They are essential, especially for positions involving security, sensitive information, or contact with vulnerable populations.

Employment Verification

Verifying an applicant’s work history helps confirm the accuracy of their resume and ensures they have the necessary experience for the job.

Education Verification

This check confirms the validity of an applicant’s educational credentials, such as degrees and certifications, to ensure they meet the job requirements.

Reference Checks

Contacting references allows employers to gather insights from previous supervisors, coworkers, or educators to assess an applicant’s character, work ethic, and reliability.

Credit Checks

In roles that involve financial responsibility or access to sensitive financial information, credit checks may be conducted to assess an applicant’s financial stability and responsibility.

Driving Record Checks

For positions that require driving, such as delivery or transportation roles, employers may check an applicant’s driving record to ensure they meet the necessary qualifications.

Reminders for Employees

To conduct employee background checks legally and ethically, employers must be aware of legal restrictions and adhere to best practices:

  1. FCRA Compliance: The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs employee background checks conducted by third-party consumer reporting agencies. Compliance includes obtaining written consent, disclosing, and following adverse action procedures.
  2. Ban-the-Box Laws: Many states and cities have “ban-the-box” laws that restrict when employers can inquire about an applicant’s criminal history. These laws often delay background checks until after a conditional job offer.
  3. EEOC Guidelines: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines to prevent discrimination during background checks. Employers should avoid practices that disproportionately impact specific groups based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  4. Data Security: Safeguard the data collected during background checks to protect it from unauthorized access and potential breaches. Ensure compliance with data protection laws.
  5. Consistency: To avoid discrimination claims, Apply background check policies to all applicants for similar positions.
  6. Transparency: Communicate openly with applicants about the purpose and scope of background checks. Provide copies of their reports and offer an opportunity to dispute inaccurate information.

Employment applications and interviews are integral components of the background check process:

  1. Employment Applications: Well-structured employment applications can collect essential information, including work history, educational background, and references. Depending on local laws, they may also include questions related to an applicant’s criminal history.
  2. Interviews: Interviews provide an opportunity to assess an applicant’s qualifications, skills, and suitability for the role. Employers can discuss an applicant’s background during interviews and address any discrepancies.
  3. Reference Checks: Employment applications often require candidates to provide references. These references can be contacted during the background check to validate the information provided.
  4. Conditional Job Offers: Some employers opt to make a conditional job offer pending the outcome of the background check. This approach ensures applicants are qualified for the role before the check is initiated.
  5. Adverse Action Notices: If adverse information is discovered in the background check, employers must follow adverse action procedures, which include notifying the applicant and providing an opportunity to dispute the findings.

Best Practices for Volunteers

Background checks for volunteers are essential to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable populations and maintain the integrity of organizations. Here are some common types of checks typically conducted for volunteers:

Background Check Types for Employees

Criminal Background Checks

These checks reveal an individual’s criminal history, including arrests, convictions, and pending charges. They are crucial for volunteers working with children, the elderly, or other vulnerable groups.

Child Abuse and Neglect Registry Checks

These checks are specific to volunteers who will work with children and involve searching databases for records of child abuse or neglect allegations.

Sex Offender Registry Checks

Ensuring that volunteers are not listed on sex offender registries is particularly important when they will have contact with vulnerable populations.

Reference Checks

Contacting personal and professional references helps organizations assess an applicant’s character, reliability, and suitability for volunteering roles.

Credential Verification

Organizations may verify the authenticity of these credentials for volunteers in positions requiring specific qualifications, such as medical or educational certifications.

Reminders for Contractors

Conducting background checks for volunteers must be done in compliance with the law and in line with best practices to maintain safety and fairness:

  1. Consent and Disclosure: Obtain the explicit and informed consent of volunteers before initiating background checks. Provide clear and concise disclosure about the purpose and scope of the checks.
  2. Ban-the-Box Laws: Be aware of “ban-the-box” laws that may delay inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history until after an initial application or interview.
  3. Data Privacy: Safeguard volunteers’ personal information and ensure compliance with data protection laws.
  4. Confidentiality: Maintain strict confidentiality regarding the results of background checks and volunteers’ personal information.
  5. Transparency: Communicate openly with volunteers about the necessity of background checks to ensure their safety and the safety of those they will serve.
  6. Adverse Action Procedures: If adverse information is found during the background check, follow adverse action procedures, which may include notifying the volunteer, providing a copy of the report, and allowing them an opportunity to dispute inaccurate information.

Background checks for volunteers have unique considerations due to the nature of volunteer work:

  1. Volunteer-Specific Policies: Develop and implement volunteer-specific background check policies tailored to the roles and responsibilities of volunteers within your organization.
  2. Cost Considerations: Given that volunteers typically serve without compensation, organizations may need to consider the cost of background checks and whether they can offer assistance or subsidies.
  3. Frequency of Checks: Determine how frequently background checks should be conducted for volunteers, particularly those in long-term or recurring roles.
  4. Age and Vulnerability of Recipients: Consider the age and vulnerability of the populations that volunteers will serve. More extensive checks may be necessary when working with children or the elderly.
  5. Documentation: Maintain thorough documentation of the background check process, including consent forms, disclosures, and reports, to demonstrate compliance with legal requirements.
  6. Feedback and Continuous Improvement: Solicit feedback from volunteers about the background check process to identify areas for improvement and ensure volunteers feel comfortable with the procedures.

Challenges and Pitfalls

While background checks are crucial for ensuring the safety and integrity of an organization, they can also be riddled with challenges and pitfalls.

Common Mistakes

Here are some common mistakes organizations make in conducting background checks:

  1. Inadequate Consent and Disclosure: Failing to obtain proper consent from candidates or volunteers before conducting background checks is a critical error. Likewise, not providing clear and concise disclosure about the scope and purpose of the checks can lead to legal trouble.
  2. Failure to Stay Current with Laws: Ignorance of federal, state, and local laws can result in non-compliance. Laws regarding background checks are continually evolving, and organizations must stay informed to avoid violations.
  3. Inconsistent Screening Practices: Applying different background check standards to different candidates or volunteers in similar roles can be perceived as discriminatory. Consistency is essential to ensure fairness.
  4. Ignoring Ban-the-Box Laws: “Ban-the-box” laws delay the timing of criminal history inquiries in the hiring process. Failing to adhere to these laws can result in non-compliance.
  5. Overlooking EEOC Guidelines: Discrimination can occur when background checks disproportionately impact specific groups based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Ignoring EEOC guidelines can lead to legal action.
  6. Incomplete or Inaccurate Information: Relying on incomplete or inaccurate data can lead to wrong conclusions about a candidate’s or volunteer’s background. It’s crucial to verify the accuracy of information obtained.
  7. Neglecting to Consider Rehabilitation: Some organizations automatically disqualify candidates with criminal records without considering whether they have been rehabilitated or pose a risk.
  8. Lack of Data Security: Failing to protect sensitive information collected during background checks can result in breaches and legal repercussions.
  9. Misinterpreting Results: Misinterpreting or misjudging the significance of specific background check findings can lead to overlooking qualified candidates or accepting unqualified ones.
  10. Skipping Reference Checks: Relying solely on automated background checks without conducting reference checks can result in missed information about an applicant’s or volunteer’s character and work history.


The consequences of non-compliance with background check laws and best practices can be severe for organizations. Here are some of the potential outcomes of non-compliance:

  1. Legal Liability: Non-compliance can result in legal action, including lawsuits from candidates, volunteers, or employees who feel their rights violated.
  2. Fines and Penalties: Violating federal, state, or local laws can lead to significant fines and penalties, which can be financially crippling for organizations.
  3. Reputation Damage: The public perception of an organization can be tarnished if it is perceived as negligent in its background check processes. This can lead to a loss of trust and credibility.
  4. Loss of Funding: Some organizations, especially nonprofits, may lose funding or grants if they are found to be non-compliant with background check requirements.
  5. Regulatory Sanctions: Regulatory bodies may impose sanctions or restrictions on organizations that fail to comply with industry-specific background check regulations.
  6. Difficulty Attracting Talent: A reputation for non-compliance can make it challenging to attract and retain top talent, as potential employees or volunteers may be wary of joining an organization with a questionable record.
  7. Disruption to Operations: Legal disputes and investigations can disrupt an organization’s normal operations and divert resources from core activities.
  8. Loss of Licenses or Accreditation: In specific industries, non-compliance can result in the loss of licenses, certifications, or accreditation, which can be devastating for the organization’s ability to operate.


We have delved deep into the intricacies of conducting background checks on different categories of workers, including Contractors, Employees, and Volunteers. Let’s recap the key points that have been explored:

  • Background checks ensure an organization’s workforce’s safety, security, and trustworthiness.
  • Compliance with federal, state, and local laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), is crucial when conducting background checks.
  • Different categories of workers, such as Contractors, Employees, and Volunteers, may be subject to varying legal requirements and considerations.
  • Consent and disclosure are fundamental aspects of legally compliant background checks, and organizations must obtain informed consent and provide clear disclosure to individuals undergoing checks.
  • Protecting an organization’s reputation is a vital aspect of background checks, as scandals related to unvetted workers can result in significant damage.
  • Industry-specific regulations, “ban-the-box” laws, and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines complicate the background check process.
  • Contracts and agreements are critical in defining the scope and terms of background checks, ensuring transparency and compliance.

Compliance with background check laws is not a mere formality but a cornerstone of ethical and legal hiring practices. It’s an obligation that organizations of all sizes and industries must take seriously. Compliance ensures:

  • Fair treatment of applicants, employees, and volunteers.
  • Protection against legal liabilities, fines, and penalties.
  • Safeguarding the reputation and trustworthiness of the organization.
  • The creation of a safe and secure environment for all stakeholders.

Failure to comply with background check laws can have far-reaching consequences, including legal action, financial losses, damage to reputation, and the loss of licenses or accreditation. Organizations must prioritize compliance to uphold their values and responsibilities.

While this article provides a comprehensive overview of background check legalities, it’s essential to acknowledge that the legal landscape can be complex and subject to change. Therefore, we strongly encourage readers with doubts or questions about background check legalities to seek legal counsel or consultation from employment law and compliance experts.

Legal advisors can provide tailored guidance based on your organization’s unique circumstances and jurisdiction’s legal requirements. They can help you navigate the intricacies of background checks, ensure compliance with relevant laws, and mitigate potential risks.

By seeking legal counsel when necessary, you demonstrate a commitment to upholding the highest legality, ethics, and fairness standards in your background check processes, ultimately safeguarding your organization’s reputation and integrity.

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