To Share or Not To Share

Mind your own business when it comes to background checks

Back Article Oct 8, 2014 By Suzanne Lucas

What items gathered during the recruitment process can I share with others? We require approval from several parties before making an employment offer, and I am concerned that we may be sharing confidential information when “check complete” should be enough. The following items are obtained during our pre-employment screening: drug screen results, Office of Inspector General search results, criminal background results, CPS results, references, driving history and pay stubs from previous employers (used to verify salary).

Before we talk about what you can and cannot share, let’s talk about why you’re doing the background check in the first place. The purpose of the background check is to make sure your company hires someone who is honest, not a security or financial threat and who will be likely to succeed in the job. That’s the purpose of the background check.

So, let’s take a look at your list and see how it helps you accomplish any of that. You don’t want people who use illegal drugs working for you, so you check that. You don’t want people with horrible driving records behind the wheel of your company cars, so you check that. You don’t want someone who robbed banks to be in charge of your accounts receivables, so you check that. But all of those things should be either pass or fail. There’s not really anything to discuss unless it’s to gossip. “Oh my word, remember that guy who was in here last week? Would you believe he had 14 speeding tickets? Fourteen!”

What value is to come of that?

Now, let’s talk about timing. With the exception of calling on references, all of these other aspects should be handled after an offer has been made. The offer should be written and be contingent on the person passing the background check. And the standards by which you judge the background check need to be established in advance. Additionally, the check needs to be consistent across all similar positions.

For instance, if your policy is not to hire someone with a DUI conviction within the last three years, and the background check shows a DUI two and a half years ago, the hiring manager might be tempted to hire the person anyway. But if you violate the standard, then you don’t really have a standard. You could find yourself in a situation where a lawyer is interrogating you as to why you hired person of X race who had a DUI but didn’t hire person of Y race who had a DUI. You can see how that can end badly for your company.

Drug screens can go the same way. In fact, you should tell your drug testing company what you will and will not accept, and they should give you a pass/fail report, not a detailed record of what was in the candidate’s system. You also want to ensure that you aren’t failing to hire someone who is on a legal medication, unless there are safety concerns. Your lab should be doing all the work of verifying prescriptions without you ever needing to know.

Your hiring managers don’t need to know either. They simply need a report from HR or the background company that says “pass” or “fail.” That’s all that is needed, and that also keeps confidential information (like medications) undisclosed.

Basically, the only thing that hiring managers should see are references, and in some cases, they may wish to conduct the reference checks themselves. Why? Because a reference can actually help you make a decision. It’s often valuable to have the hiring manager speak with a candidate’s previous manager. The hiring manager knows the questions that are important to ask, whereas the recruiter or HR person may not.

If a manager wants to know details about a background check, find out exactly why. Chances are, there won’t be a good reason other than the burning desire to know. That makes for a less-than-professional environment. Be smart. Have your managers help determine the criteria for passing and failing. That way, it’s all they’ll need to know. Keep confidential information confidential.


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