A peek into employment background checks from the employer’s perspective

I’ve written in the past about employee background checks and the laws that pertain to them here in Texas, particularly with regard to criminal background checks. Employment background checks in Fort Worth and Dallas are a big issue because right now it’s an employer’s labor market and even the slightest issue in a background check can mean the difference between getting the call back or going into the shredder. I know background checks are a big issue.

My posts on background checks are among the most viewed content on my website. I found a post on another employment law blog discussing background checks from the employer’s side. It’s worth understanding why employers run these background checks.

The other blog is “Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home” penned by Donna Ballman, employment lawyer. Her blog gained notoriety in its early years for taking episodes of The Office and analyzing the legal claims in each episode. Now that the show  ended she continues to blog about actual employment issues. A post by Rebecca Gray offers her employer-side explanation why employers conduct background checks. Her guest post is “Guest Post: Why Employers Want To Check Your Background”.

Employment issues and background checks in Texas

Ms. Gray begins by discussing a fact known to anybody who is currently on the job hunt: it’s a buyer’s market for employers. Unemployment is pretty bad right now, even here in Texas where there is supposedly a better job market.

In addition to the unemployment, there are also a lot of workers who are underemployed in jobs working too few hours or for too little pay for their qualifications and are on the hunt to move into a more lucrative role. Add everybody who wants a different job for every other reason and you have a job market overflowing with applicants.

Employers are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes and applications. That allows them to be very selective in their hiring. It also means that there are dozens (or more) applications/resumes coming in with very similar qualifications.

If you can get on the short list of candidates receiving an interview then you still have to maneuver through the interview process and pass the background check ahead of all the other candidates. It’s such a good market for employers that even the slightest concern can be enough to drop off the candidate list.

Why employers run background checks

Ms. Gray identifies four reasons why employers run background checks: (1) legal standing; (2) fiscal responsibility; (3) drug testing; (4) specialized concerns. These are generally the reasons why all employers conduct background checks, although as she accurately points out, each employer has different concerns and may conduct more or less narrow background checks based on those concerns.

The problem with these background checks, aside from drug testing, is that they may disclose things about your past that weren’t your fault or are more complex than what the basic facts demonstrate.

For example, an employee who sued a prior employer may not be particularly litigious but was due a large sum of money based on a contractual promise and had a very reasonable basis for filing suit. It’s not that employee’s fault the prior employer was dishonest in its business practices.

However, the prospective employer conducting the background check may not take such an impartial view of the lawsuit.

Legal standing

When Ms. Gray talks about legal standing, she is referencing criminal convictions as well as employment-related litigation and various quasi-criminal or civil legal issues that can appear in public legal records made available through the criminal and civil courts of the state (and federal courts).

Employers are often on the watch for employees with a history of dishonesty, such as theft charges, and to a lesser extent employment litigation, such as discrimination suits, but in this employer-favored job market even a DUI from years ago might be enough to edge you out of the running for a position.

There is no way to remove civil litigation records but criminal convictions can sometimes be expunged from records, making them unavailable to an employer’s background check (if conducted lawfully). If you have a criminal record then it may be worthwhile to pursue expungement of as much as you can.

Financial responsibility

It might surprise some to learn that employers sometimes conduct background checks that include fiscal responsibility, or financial responsibility, concerns. Increasingly employers are pulling credit reports for job applicants to learn more about your financial dealings.

A history of credit defaults, bankruptcy, writing hot checks, and other problems on your credit report may suggest to the employer that you have money problems, you are irresponsible, or you do not respect the obligations you have agreed to. Sometimes these concerns are legitimate. Sometimes these things appear on credit reports from the distant past.

It is common after a divorce for one or both parties to file for bankruptcy because they can no longer support the financial obligations from the marriage plus the separate financial obligations that each person incurs after the divorce.

An employer might see a recent bankruptcy as a questionable event although the individual had little choice. Cleaning your credit report is a good way to reduce the likelihood that negative credit reporting will affect your job search.

Also may include drug testing

Drug testing is not really a background check because it tests present conduct; but it is usually tied up in the background check process. Drug use can suggest irresponsibility, dangerous behavior and other negative implications that most employers do not want around their workplace. That is not necessarily the case; but enough employers think this way that a positive drug test can quickly put you in the discard pile. Maybe take a break from your recreational drug use while job-hunting.

Other issues

Last, Ms. Gray mentions that some companies and positions require a more careful review of certain issues. Employers have to consider their risk in hiring an employee. Often that means looking at the particular risks of each position.

A position that requires driving often will have a higher standard for a driving record. A DUI is likely to strike you from the applicant pool for that position.

Similarly, jobs in any financial-related industry is likely to pay attention to your financial history and criminal record for dishonesty. A bank probably doesn’t want to hire the person with theft convictions.

However, a financial adviser with a DUI or two may not be a problem. Jobs that send employees to customers’ homes or businesses may need a closer look at the criminal record for assault, sex-related crimes, and other criminal history that may suggest an applicant is more likely to endanger other people while on the job.

Consider how your financial and criminal background may put you at a disadvantage for certain jobs.

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