Background Check – Definition

Cite this article as:"Background Check – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 5, 2019, last accessed September 26, 2020,


Background Screening or Pre-Employment Screening Definition

Pre-employment screening refers to the process of using background checks, psychometric testing, and drug testing to identify and determine the basis for recruiting a new employee. This method is mostly used in situations where the employer seeks to acquire new employee in the organization. More than 96% of human resource managers state that their organizations carry out background checks whenever they want to hire new employees. According to the Workplace, Violence Survey by The Society for Human Resource Management revealed that these figures had increased considerably from 66% in 1996.

A Little More on Background or Pre-Employment Screening

Before the human resource manager delves into exclusive background check of the individuals they intend to recruit in the company, they need to consider the legal implications that can affect their business if they apply this method.

Examining the background of a potential employee helps in maximizing the risks that might occur due to negligent hiring lawsuit. This may make the hirer, and the company held responsible for the actions and behaviors of new employee especially when the hirer employs an individual without carrying out a background check.  Before carrying out the background check, it is important for the hirer to conform with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the American With Disabilities Act.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA provides that, small business should have their workers sign a disclosure form the authority to carry out background test.  The FCRA does not only provide restrictions to credit reports but also include consumer reports. However, the application of this law varies from one state to another based on the information to be used to carry out the pre-screening employment process. For example, the law governing a certain state may prohibit the use of a particular aspect of criminal record in the background check process.  Another state may have different law such as California’s Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act. Therefore, before starting the process, the employer is required to consult the local regulators and the legal counsel before exploring the criminal records of the new hire.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) describes a person with a disability as:

  •         A person who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially affects one or more major life activities
  •         A person who has recorded such impairment.
  •         or a person who is regarded to have such an impairment

The ADA provides that the employers are restricted from using disability or medical data in the background check process. In other words, this act restricts the employer from asking questions about disability during the interview process. The ADA covers the organizations including local and state corporations that have 15 or more employees.

The items included in the background check vary from state region to another. However, the most common checks are based on the information regarding:

  •       credit history
  •        academic history
  •        social security number
  •        personal references
  •        driving history
  •        criminal history
  •        compensation of the workers.

Outsourcing Your Pre-Employment Screening

One way through which small businesses can carry out effective background checks seeking the help of the services of background checking company. Hiring services of a background checking company can help the business to find accurate and full information about the potential employee. The outsourcing partner of the business should take the business through legal requirements as well as state and federal regulations concerning background checks. On the other hand, under FCRA, small business has limited legal immunity through using the third-party background pre-employment screening company.

Besides, whether the small business decides to carry out the screening on their own or employ the third party to carry out the process on their behalf, necessary precautions should be taken to ensure compliance with the law. The business can also seek the counsel of the agencies such as SCORE or the Small Business Administration (SBA). They should continuously visit the government website on FCRA and ADA to get more information about the process. Lastly, background screening should be made a standard practice for a successful operation of small businesses.

References for Background Screening

Academic Research on Background Screening

  • Examining applicant reactions to the use of social networking websites in pre-employment screening, Stoughton, J. W., Thompson, L. F., & Meade, A. W. (2015). Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(1), 73-88. This paper examines the reactions of the job applicants to the use of social websites to conduct background screening during the employment process. The study revealed that job applicants feel that their privacy is at risk. This has in most cases resulted in a low application by the potential individuals. The article concluded that the positive or negative hiring decisions of the organization lack moderation of the screening and justice.
  • Effective employment screening practices, Wang, J. M., & Kleiner, B. H. (2000). Management research news, 23(5/6), 73-81. This article examines the employment screening practices that yield an effective success rate and make the firm have the best employee. The author presents mistakes that hiring firms make during their recruitment process. The paper further discusses the concept of negligent hiring and retention through poor checks. In addition, the article outlines the pre-employment check and recommends the best strategy to use. It also addresses the issue of monitoring the crimes that occur at workplace and emphasize on the need to conform with the legal procedures.
  • Ex-offenders need not to apply: The criminal background checks in hiring decisions, Harris, P. M., & Keller, K. S. (2005). Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 6-30.  Various barriers have been put in place to prevent ex-offenders from securing legal employment.  This paper explores the utility and scope of the laws that aim at obstructing the criminals from getting legal employment and reducing the crime at the workplace. The study concludes by providing recommendations for reasonable uses of risk assessment in employment screening laws.
  • The impact of pre-employment integrity testing on employee turnover and inventory shrinkage losses, Brown, T. S., Jones, J. W., Terris, W., & Steffy, B. D. (1987). Journal of Business and Psychology, 2(2), 136-149. A major home improvement chain located primarily in the western United States initiated the use of thePersonnel Selection Inventory, a written integrity test, as part of its pre-employment hiring process. For two years only, those job applicants who passed this test and other pre-employment criteria were hired by the chain. Following the introduction of the inventory, there was: (1) a 50% reduction in the number of employee terminations for theft, illegal drug use, and violence over five years and (2) savings in shrinkage losses that amounted to over two million dollars over two years.
  • Pre-participation screening: the use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function–part 1, Cook, G., Burton, L., & Hoogenboom, B. (2006). North American journal of sports physical therapy: NAJSPT, 1(2), 62. This article analyses the rationale and background for the analysis and evaluation of the movements for pre-screening employment process.  The paper describes the movement patterns in the pre-participation.
  • Social networking web sites: The legal and ethical aspects of pre-employment screening and employee surveillance, Waring, R. L., & Buchanan, F. R. (2010). Journal of Human Resources Education, 4(2), 14-23. This article explores the legal and ethical aspect of the background test. The author provides that the education of human resource professionals should involve instilling knowledge focuses on the development of the law in screening employees. He further suggests that many organizations should critically evaluate the behavior of their potential employees based on the law. Many organizations inquire into the off-duty behavior of workers in this fashion and are. Lastly, the paper discusses the implications and provide recommendations for the effective recruitment process.
  • Need Not to Apply: The Racial Disparate Impact of Pre-Employment Criminal Background Checks, Concepción Jr, R. (2012). Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Poly, 19, 231. A devastating recession in a generation accompanies the contemporary downturn of the economic activities. As such this paper explores the transformation that has occurred in the employment system. The author presents that the employers are currently using background checks to discriminate in giving out employment to the potential employees. Therefore, the author recommends that stiff measures should be enacted to prevent discriminations in the workplace.
  • Beyond the basic background check: Hiring the “right” employees, Brody, R. G. (2010). Management Research Review, 33(3), 210-223. This article states that relying merely on the background information is not a guarantee of hiring an appropriate worker. The author suggests that depending exclusively on the background information may lead the organization to hire the wrong individual for a job position. Therefore, he proposed that companies and the employers should consider other screening techniques to evaluate the employees for hiring.
  • Integrity tests: Facts and unresolved issues., Camara, W. J., & Schneider, D. L. (1994). American Psychologist, 49(2), 112. This paper discusses two independent reports conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment. The report examines issues, and scientific measurements regarding integrity are testing such relevance, criterion, and validity.
  • Perceived criminality, criminal background checks, and the racial hiring practices of employers, Holzer, H. J., Raphael, S., & Stoll, M. A. (2006). The Journal of Law and Economics, 49(2), 451-480. This paper analyses the impacts of employer-initiated background checks on criminals that the employer is likely to hire African American. The study revealed that most of the employers who carry out background checks on criminal records are likely to hire African American especially men. This impact was more positive among the employers who report an aversion to hiring individuals with criminal records compared to those who do not have. The results suggested that without considering the criminal background checks, the employers discriminate African Americans. This is considered to be major factor that has led to wide employment gap between the whites and African Americans.
  • Redemption in the presence of widespread criminal background checks, Blumstein, A., & Nakamura, K. (2009). Criminology, 47(2), 327-359. This paper explores the redemption measures that exist in the current job market. According to the authors, the introduction of a computerized system of criminal checks and made the screening process ubiquitous. This is because large data of criminal records have been accumulated and stored in the database. This makes it easy to access the records and carry out effective screening checks.
  • Pre-employment screening: A decade of change, Philbrick, J. H., Bart, B. D., & Hass, M. E. (1999). American Business Review, 17(2), 75. This paper explores the changes that have occurred in the screening process for many decades. The author presents that many changes have occurred due to the introduction of technology in the recruitment process. The introduction of technology has enabled the employers to carry out pre-evaluation based on the data present in the computer database.

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