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Description of Pre-Employment Screening Tools

A chart describing various screening tools, why they’re important, and what the limitations of each are.

November 2, 2001
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Below are descriptions of various screening tools, including type ofinformation, why the information is important, and their limitations:

Criminal Record Search
What? Felony and misdemeanor convictions, and pending cases, usually including date and nature of offense, sentencing date, disposition, and current status. A search generally goes back seven years. Employers can also search federal court records.

It is critical to search both for felonies and misdemeanors in state court, since many serious violations can be classified as misdemeanors.
Why? Critical information to protect your business and employees. Protects employer from negligent hiring exposure and helps reduce threat of workplace violence, theft, disruption and other problems. Failure to honestly disclose a prior criminal conviction can also be the basis not to hire. Many employers check all jurisdictions where an applicant has lived, worked or studied in the past seven years.
Limits Some restrictions on having certain information (such as arrests not resulting in convictions), or certain minor offenses. Employment cannot be automatically denied based upon a criminal record, but must show some sound business reason. Contrary to popular perception, criminal records are not available by computer nationwide. Background firms must check the public records at each individual county courthouse that is potentially relevant.

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Driver's License Search
What? Driving history and verification of driving privilege.
Why? Gives insight into applicant's level of responsibility. Determine whether applicant keeps commitments to appear in court or pay fines, has a drug/alcohol problem, and license status. Also helps verify identity. "Driving for work" is very broadly defined in most jurisdictions and is not limited to driving positions.
Limits This information can be accessed by an outside agency on an employer's behalf. The alternative is having applicants personally go to the DMV to obtain their own records, which is not practical and is subject to fraud.

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Social Security Number Check/Identity
What? Provides names and addresses associated with the applicant's social security number, and may indicate any fraudulent use. May verify other applicant information.
Why? Helps verify that applicants are who they say they are. Assists in determining where to conduct criminal searches. Critical to ensure employer is not the victim of a fraudulent application by someone with something to hide.
Limits Where employer does not have a sound business reason to obtain a business credit report, the social security check gives information to help confirm identity and to uncover fraud.

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Credit Report
What? Credit history and public records such as judgements, liens and bankruptcies. May include previous employers, addresses and other names used. 
Why? Helps determine whether an employee is suitable for a position involving handling cash or the exercise of financial discretion, as well as a possible way to gauge trustworthiness and reliability.
Limits A credit report should only be requested when it is specifically relevant to a job function and the employer has appropriate policies and procedures in place to ensure that the use of credit reports are relevant and fair.

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Employment Verification
What? Basic verification includes dates of employment, job title and reason for leaving. Some employers will verify salary. Usually obtained from HR or Payroll. Some employers have the information recorded on a 900 service.
Why? This information confirms your applicant's resume, and verifies their previous job history. Helps eliminate any unexplained gaps in employment, which ensures that appropriate jurisdictions have been checked for criminal records. Critical to verify past employment even if past employers will not give a reference. 
Limits Employers are often hesitant to give recommendations and may limit prior employment checks to the basic information. This service can be limited if not allowed to contact current employer, if past employer is out of business or cannot be located, or if employee was working through an agency.

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Employment Reference
What? This is a more in-depth reference check that seeks job duties, performance, salary, strengths and weaknesses, eligibility for rehire, and other detailed information. 
Why? Allows an employer to have a realistic assessment of a candidate from former employers. It promotes a better fit, confirms the hiring opinion and protects the expensive hiring investment.
Limits Although most employers would like references, few will give them due to concerns over legal liability. However, an employer should still attempt to obtain references in order to demonstrate Due Diligence.

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Personal Reference Check
What? Contact personal references to ascertain additional information about your applicant concerning fitness for the job in question.
Why? Personal references can provide valuable information as to a person's character as it relates to the job opening.
Limits Reference should be asked about relationship to the applicant in order to evaluate the information. Can also contact "developed" references for a better picture. 

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Education Verification
What? Will confirm degrees, diplomas or certificates and dates attended.
Why? Confirms education and ability to do the job.
Limits Industry sources show that 30% of all job applicants falsify information about their educational background. Some schools require a fee, or will only fax to an 800 number.

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Professional Licenses
What? The type of license, whether currently valid, dates issued, state and licensing authority.
Why? Confirms whether an applicant has the required credentials or licenses.
Limits There is a high incidence of job applicants making up or falsifying licenses or credentials.

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Civil Records
What? Date of filing, case type, case number or file record, jurisdiction and if available, identity of parties involved.
Why? Discover whether your applicant has sued former employers or has been sued for reasons that are relevant to employment.
Limits An employer should use this information where it is relevant to job performance. It is advisable to have standard policies and procedures for use.

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Worker's Compensation
What? Information about Worker's Compensation Claims and previous injuries.
Why? Employers use data to conduct post-job offer review in compliance with strict standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Limits Federal and state laws regulate the use of these records. Employer should contact labor attorney before obtaining.

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©Lester S. Rosen, Employment ScreeningResources, 2001. 

The information contained here is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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