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Best Practices for Conducting Criminal Background Checks

From the National Employment Law Project's guide Criminal Background Checks: A Best Practices Guide for Employers:

December 7, 2011
Related Topics: Pre-employment Assessment and Testing, Background Checks & Investigations, Employee Screening, Legal Compliance, Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, HR & Business Administration, Legal

Even for those employers whose businesses are not in cities and states with "ban the box" guidelines in place, the National Employment Law Project, or NELP, believes there are best practices when it comes to conducting criminal background checks that can save human resources departments time and money and will offer the company a larger pool of candidates than might otherwise exist.

From NELP's guide Criminal Background Checks: A Best Practices Guide for Employers:

• Background checks cost money and can be inaccurate. Carefully survey positions to determine which require a background check.

• Do not inquire into criminal history on the initial application. Instead, delay the inquiry until the final stages to save personnel time and resources.

• Include notice on your job application that a conviction is not an automatic bar to employment.

• To avoid violating federal law, do not ask about or consider arrest records.

• Be sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act requirements by providing notice and obtaining worker consent, giving the applicant a copy of the background report prior to any rejection and allowing the applicant to correct any information.

• Comply with federal law by only considering convictions that are both job-related and recent. Consider the circumstances of the offense and any evidence of rehabilitation.

• Give the applicant a written notice of the potentially disqualifying conviction(s) and allow the applicant to provide information regarding the offense(s), including evidence of rehabilitation.

Heather O'Neill is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. To comment, email

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