Background checks play a crucial role in recruitment and hiring, ensuring the suitability of candidates for a position. However, employers must navigate this process carefully, especially when asking sensitive questions that could lead to discrimination or privacy concerns. Let’s delve into some common background check questions, associated risks, and best practices to remain compliant with relevant laws and guidelines.

A photo for Background Check Questions: Best Practices and Compliance

Common Background Screening Questions

1. Are you legally eligible to work in the United States?

Potential Risk: This question could inadvertently lead to discrimination based on national origin or citizenship status.

Best Practice: Frame the question to focus on the applicant’s ability to provide proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. after hiring in compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).

2. Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

Potential Risk: Asking this question too early in the hiring process could lead to discrimination against individuals with criminal records, which EEOC guidelines prohibit.

Best Practice: Wait for a job offer before asking job-related questions that are necessary for the business.

3. Have you ever been arrested?

Potential Risk: Inquiring about arrests could lead to discrimination, as arrest records are not proof of guilt.

Best Practice: Avoid asking about arrests and focus instead on convictions or pending charges relevant to the job.

4. Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?

Potential Risk: Similar to the previous question, asking about convictions could lead to discrimination if not applied uniformly to all applicants.

Best Practice: Ask about convictions only if they are directly related to the job, and consider giving applicants an opportunity to explain the circumstances.

5. Have you ever been released from prison on parole or probation?

Potential Risk: This statement implies that asking certain questions could potentially result in discrimination against individuals who have a criminal record.

Best Practice: Do not ask about parole or probation status unless it is directly relevant to the job and necessary for business reasons.

Potential Risk: This question may be considered invasive and not directly relevant to the job.

Best Practice: If this information is necessary for the job, frame the question in a way that focuses on job-related behaviors and conduct.

7. Have you ever been accused of discrimination or harassment in the workplace?

Potential Risk: Asking about past harassment or discrimination could discourage reporting.

Best Practice: Avoid asking about accusations and focus on convictions or findings of liability related to harassment or discrimination.

8. Have you ever filed a discrimination or harassment complaint against a previous employer?

Potential Risk: Similar to the previous question, this inquiry could deter individuals from reporting legitimate complaints.

Best Practice: Avoid asking about complaints and instead focus on convictions or findings of liability related to harassment or discrimination.

9. Have you ever been disciplined or terminated from a job for violating company policies?

Potential Risk: This question could lead to discriminatory practices if disciplinary actions or terminations are not job-related.

Best Practice: If relevant to the job, ask about job-related disciplinary actions or terminations and provide applicants with an opportunity to explain the circumstances.

Potential Risk: This question could lead to discrimination if used to screen out applicants based on past legal actions unfairly.

Best Practice: If necessary for the job, ask about legal actions directly related to the job and consider providing applicants with an opportunity to explain the circumstances.

Additional Guidelines

To ask these questions while remaining compliant with background check laws, consider the following guidelines:

  • Timing: Do not ask about an applicant’s criminal history, arrest records, or other sensitive information too early in the hiring process. Wait until later stages, such as after a conditional job offer, to inquire about these matters.
  • Job Relevance: Ensure the questions are directly related to the job requirements. For example, ask about criminal history only if it relates to the position’s duties or responsibilities.
  • Use General Language: Instead of asking about specific criminal convictions or incidents, use more general language to inquire about an applicant’s background. Ask if the person has any unsealed criminal convictions.
  • Provide Context: Please explain how you will use the information gathered to make a selection. This can help applicants understand the relevance of the questions and feel more comfortable providing honest answers.
  • Compliance: Ensure that your questions and background check processes comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws, including ban-the-box laws, FCRA requirements, and anti-discrimination laws.
  • Consistency: Ask all applicants for the same position the same questions to avoid potential discrimination claims.
  • Documentation: Record the questions, the applicant’s responses, and any actions based on this information to demonstrate compliance with applicable laws.

Conclusion:

Navigating background check questions requires balancing gathering the necessary information and avoiding potential legal risks. To conduct background checks fairly and legally, employers should use uniform job-related questions and best practices.