Background checks don’t inoculate companies against occupational fraud and other criminal acts by employees. After all, many thieves have never been caught and, therefore, have no criminal background.

But conducting checks on potential workers remains critical. If you’re hiring an accounting staffer, for example, you want to know if that person is deeply in debt and has an incentive to cook the books. If you’ll be issuing a company car, you probably don’t want to hire someone with a slew of moving violations.

Basic Information

At a minimum, ask former employers to confirm dates of employment, job titles and other resumé information, and then ask about the applicant’s work habits and reliability. Many employers are unwilling to divulge more than factual information because they fear lawsuits from applicants. But if you pay close attention on these calls, tone of voice may reveal a lot.

Also verify education and certifications listed on the resumé and check whether disciplinary action has ever been taken. If the position involves handling cash, operating company equipment, purchasing or other sensitive duties, drill down a little further with a background check.

What the Law Allows

Before conducting any checks (or hiring a service to conduct them for you), obtain written authorization from the job applicant, and find out from your state attorney general’s office what state laws prohibit. In some states, you can look at an applicant’s criminal history only if you’re hiring for certain positions, such as a child care worker. But in most states, employers have the right to look at driving, credit, criminal and court records.

Whatever information you collect, make sure it’s related to the job. Keep in mind that you may not be able to use everything you dig up in making your hiring decision. If an applicant to an accounts receivable position declared personal bankruptcy five years ago, for example, that’s not a valid reason to deny employment. If, however, the applicant has been convicted of bankruptcy fraud, you’re probably justified in not hiring the person.

Off Limits Information

One area that’s off limits to employers is an applicant’s medical records. Some workers’ compensation information is public record, and you may use it, but only if the injury involved would interfere with the applicant’s ability to perform a certain job.

Military records also are generally private, though the military may provide basic information such as rank, duty assignments, awards, salary and duty status without consent. If you want more extensive information, you can ask an applicant’s permission for the release of military records.

We Can Help

Before establishing background check procedures, consult your attorney to ensure you won’t be violating any laws. For help detecting and preventing fraud, contact us.

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