This information was taken from a joint publication of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.
When making personnel decisions — including hiring, retention, promotion, and reassignment — employers sometimes want to consider the backgrounds of applicants and employees. For example, some employers might try to find out about the person’s work history, education, criminal record, financial history, medical history, or use of social media. Except for certain restrictions related to medical and genetic information (see below), it’s not illegal for an employer to ask questions about an applicant’s or employee’s background, or to require a background check.
However, any time you use an applicant’s or employee’s background information to make an employment decision, regardless of how you got the information, you must comply with federal laws that protect applicants and employees from discrimination. That includes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion; disability; genetic information (including family medical history); and age (40 or older). These laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
In addition, when you run background checks through a company in the business of compiling background information, you must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the FCRA. This publication explains how to comply with both the federal nondiscrimination laws and the FCRA. It’s also a good idea to review the laws of your state and municipality regarding background reports or information because some states and municipalities regulate the use of that information for employment purposes.
Before You Get Background Information
In all cases, make sure that you’re treating everyone equally. It’s illegal to check the background of applicants and employees when that decision is based on a person’s race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (40 or older). For example, asking only people of a certain race about their financial histories or criminal records is evidence of discrimination.
Except in rare circumstances, don’t try to get an applicant’s or employee’s genetic information, which includes family medical history. Even if you have that information, don’t use it to make an employment decision. (For more information about this law, see the EEOC’s publications explaining the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA.) Don’t ask any medical questions before a conditional job offer has been made. If the person has already started the job, don’t ask medical questions unless you have objective evidence that he or she is unable to do the job or poses a safety risk because of a medical condition.
If you get background information (for example, a credit or criminal background report) from a company in the business of compiling background information, there are additional procedures the FCRA requires beforehand:
Tell the applicant or employee you might use the information for decisions about his or her employment. This notice must be in writing and in a stand-alone format. The notice can’t be in an employment application. You can include some minor additional information in the notice (like a brief description of the nature of consumer reports), but only if it doesn’t confuse or detract from the notice.
If you are asking a company to provide an “investigative report” – a report based on personal interviews concerning a person’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, and lifestyle – you must also tell the applicant or employee of his or her right to a description of the nature and scope of the investigation.
Get the applicant’s or employee’s written permission to do the background check. This can be part of the document you use to notify the person that you will get the report.
If you want the authorization to allow you to get background reports throughout the person’s employment, make sure you say so clearly and conspicuously.
Certify to the company from which you are getting the report that you:
notified the applicant and got their permission to get a background report;
complied with all of the FCRA requirements;
don’t discriminate against the applicant or employee, or otherwise misuse the information in violation of federal or state equal opportunity laws or regulations.
Watch for the second part of this series next week!
~~Susan McCullah is the Marketing Project Manager/ Background Screening Division for Data Facts, Inc, a 25 year old Memphis based company. Data Facts Inc -an NAPBS accredited company- is a leading provider of employment screening solutions. Check out our website for a complete explanation of our services.