Adjudication is the decision-making step in background checks, where HR professionals evaluate the results to determine a candidate’s suitability for employment. This process is critical for maintaining a fair, compliant, and efficient hiring procedure. The decisions made during adjudication can significantly impact job candidates and the company’s risk management.

What is Adjudication in Background Checks? A Guide for HR Professionals

What is Adjudication?

Adjudication in the context of employment background checks refers to the process by which HR professionals evaluate the findings of a background check to make informed decisions about a candidate’s eligibility for employment. This critical step follows the initial background check and involves a thorough review and analysis of the gathered data, including criminal records, employment history, education verification, and more.

The goal of adjudication is to assess whether any red flags identified in the background check are relevant and significant enough to impact the candidate’s suitability for the position. It requires a balanced approach that considers both the company’s needs and policies and the candidate’s rights and privacy.

Adjudication must be conducted fairly and in compliance with all applicable laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the United States, which regulates the use of background check information and ensures that candidates are treated fairly. HR professionals must also consider guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and local “Ban the Box” laws, which provide frameworks to avoid discrimination and promote fair hiring practices.

In essence, adjudication is not just about finding potential issues but also about understanding them within the context of the job and the laws, making fair, justified, and legally defensible decisions. This process ensures that the company makes safe and responsible hiring decisions while giving each candidate a fair chance at employment.

Adjudication Steps: A Closer Look

Review of Background Check Results

This step is the foundation of the adjudication process. HR professionals scrutinize the detailed findings from background checks, which typically include criminal records, credit history, past employment verification, and educational credentials. Understanding the types of information, such as misdemeanor versus felony convictions or discrepancies in employment history, is crucial. The timeline for this review should be efficient yet thorough to prevent delays in the hiring process.

Assessment Against Predefined Criteria

During this phase, each element of the background check is evaluated against the company’s established criteria. These criteria are often shaped by the nature of the job, industry regulations, and company policy. For instance, a financial position may have strict guidelines regarding credit history. HR needs to apply these standards uniformly to all candidates to ensure fairness and legal compliance.

Individualized Consideration of Context

A key component of fair adjudication is the individualized assessment of each case. Factors such as the severity of the offense, the time elapsed since the occurrence, and its relevance to the job role are considered. This nuanced approach helps make decisions that are not only legally compliant but also equitable, considering the potential for rehabilitation and the context of prior offenses.

Communication of Potential Disqualifiers

Before making a final decision, it is standard practice to communicate any potential disqualifiers to the candidate, typically through pre-adverse and adverse action notices as required by the FCRA. This step ensures transparency in the hiring process and allows candidates to correct inaccuracies or provide additional context.

Candidate Opportunity to Respond

Allowing candidates to respond to the findings of a background check is critical. It provides a platform for candidates to clarify discrepancies, dispute incorrect information, or provide mitigating circumstances. This process underscores the importance of two-way communication and fairness in adjudication.

Final Decision & Documentation

The concluding step involves making the final hiring decision based on all gathered information and documented justifications. Maintaining detailed records of decisions and their bases ensures compliance and aids in defending the decision if challenged legally. It also helps in refining the adjudication process over time.

FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act)

The FCRA sets the standards for employment screening, emphasizing the accuracy and privacy of background check information. HR professionals should familiarize themselves with these provisions to avoid legal pitfalls.

EEOC Guidance on Using Criminal Records

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines to ensure that background checks do not disproportionately exclude certain groups from employment, which could be discriminatory.

State and Local “Ban the Box” Laws

These laws require employers to remove the conviction history question from job applications and delay background checks until later in the hiring process, affecting how and when adjudication can occur.

Common Challenges & FAQs

Incomplete or Ambiguous Records

Handling incomplete or ambiguous background check results can be challenging. HR professionals need to seek clarification or additional documentation when necessary. If legal, contacting previous employers or educational institutions for further verification ensures a more accurate and complete understanding of the candidate’s background.

Balancing Risk vs. Second Chances

One of the most delicate aspects of adjudication is weighing the risks of hiring a candidate with a criminal record against the potential benefits of giving someone a second chance. Factors to consider include the nature of the job, the candidate’s rehabilitation efforts, and the potential for a positive contribution to the workplace.

Consistency in Adjudication

Ensuring consistency across all cases protects the company from discrimination claims and promotes fairness in the hiring process. Establishing clear, written guidelines and regularly training HR staff on these protocols can help achieve uniformity in adjudication decisions.

How do we handle background check discrepancies?

Address discrepancies by reviewing the information with the candidate to understand and rectify any errors. This ensures fairness and maintains the integrity of the hiring process.

What if a background check reveals a criminal record irrelevant to the job’s responsibilities?

Evaluate the relevance of the offense in relation to the job duties. If the record does not impact the candidate’s ability to perform the job safely and effectively, it should not automatically disqualify them.

How can we improve our adjudication process?

Continuously update your adjudication criteria to align with current laws and best practices. Regular training for HR staff and reviewing past adjudication outcomes for consistency can also enhance the process.


The adjudication process is a cornerstone of effective HR practices, ensuring that hiring decisions are fair, compliant, and beneficial for the company and job candidates. HR professionals should consider consulting legal counsel to navigate complex scenarios that may arise during background checks.

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