Background checks form a crucial part of every recruitment process. 

These assessments help ensure that you are not only hiring the best but also the most reliable talent.

But while you dig into the past, it’s also important to stay mindful of the ethical boundaries.

In this guide, we’ve discussed the primary background check ethics along with every other information that you may need in the process.

Read on. 

Decoding 11 MUST follow background check ethics

11 MUST follow background check ethics

1. Fairness in assessment

Background checks must be conducted based on factual information rather than assumptions or stereotypes.

This approach promotes an inclusive work environment where every individual gets an equal opportunity.

2. Transparency in process

Inform candidates about the checks being conducted and the kind of information you are looking for. 

Open communication is the ultimate gateway to building trust, and also prevents potential misunderstandings.

You might also like: 8 quick tips for highly effective candidate communication

3. Respect for privacy

The best practice here is to limit the scrutiny of information relevant to the job role and avoid unnecessary intrusion into personal lives, thereby upholding the dignity and privacy of the candidates (as you should).

Imagine you’re reviewing the resume of Jamie, a promising candidate with a stellar track record in sales. 

While it might be tempting to delve deep into Jamie’s social media to scrutinize every aspect of their personal life, it’s best to resist this urge.

Concentrate on Jamie’s professional accolades and experiences that directly pertain to the job role at hand, steering clear of unnecessary probes into their personal space. 

4. Compliance with legal norms

Be well-versed with the federal and state laws governing background checks (like Ban the Box laws) to ensure that your process is lawful and ethical.

This safeguards your organization from potential legal repercussions.

5. Confidentiality of information

Needless to mention, it’s crucial to confirm that the personal information of the candidate is handled responsibly, adhering to privacy laws like the American Data Privacy Protection Act (ADPPA) governing the handling of personal information. 

You must put conscious efforts into safeguarding sensitive data and preventing unauthorized access, doing justice to the trust placed by the candidates in your organization.

6. Collaboration with reputed agencies

Another hack to minimize the fuss around ethical background checks is to join hands with a reputed agency from your industry.

These organizations can help you out with everything you need to be careful about. 

And let’s not forget the accuracy and reliability factor it brings to the table, playing a huge role in building a trustworthy and efficient recruitment process.

7. Timely completion of checks

Always ensure that the background checks are completed in a decent and reasonable time frame.

This not only expedites the recruitment process but also demonstrates professionalism and respect for the candidate’s time, leaving behind a positive candidate experience.

8. Adherence to company policy

It’s an absolute no-brainer to adhere strictly to the company’s policy regarding background checks when on it.

Be it about following the guidelines laid down by the organization meticulously or ensuring a standardized and ethical recruitment process.

9. Avoiding discrimination

If you are looking forward to establishing a proper set of background check ethics in your recruitment process, avoiding discrimination is often the stepping stone. 

First, overcome the burden of unconscious bias in order to give every candidate an equal opportunity to prove their worth, irrespective of their background.

You might also like: How to eliminate unconscious bias when hiring remotely? 

10. Openness to feedback

Stay open to feedback from candidates regarding the background check process at all stages. 

This reflects your commitment to the practice of continuous improvement, where the process is regularly refined based on the feedback received, ensuring a candidate-friendly recruitment process.

11. Right to appeal

Provide candidates with the right to appeal against the findings of the background checks. 

The aim is to proceed with fairness, where candidates have the opportunity to present their side of the story, ensuring a just and equitable recruitment drive.

How to create an ethical background check policy? 5 steps to success

5 steps of creating an ethical background check policy

1. State the purpose

Start with clearly stating the purpose of the background checks for the candidates in your pipeline. 

Verify if the ones under the radar are well informed about the purpose of the background checks, largely promoting clarity and transparency.

2. Define types of checks performed

What are the crucial pieces of information you’re willing to cross-check through a background check? 

Disclose the types of checks you are performing way ahead of time to create a sense of safety among the candidates.

3. Do position-specific checks

Position-specific checks are the boundary lines that focus your background check efforts on actionable information for better decision-making. 

These checks are tailored to the specific requirements of the job role and help keep the privacy factor intact.

4. Outline disqualifying offenses

Outlining the disqualifying offenses right away can help set clear expectations among candidates regarding past records that can hamper their chances of landing the job. 

Instead of straight-up disqualification, a little clarification can help applicants understand your side of the story, casting a positive impression among the talent pool.

5. Document actions post-check

Documenting the actions taken based on the results of the background checks is a vital step in creating an ethical background check policy that works in your favor every single time. 

This is exactly how you cultivate accountability, ensuring that the actions taken are documented and well-tracked for both ends.

6 legal structures that promote background check ethics

1. State laws governing background checks

Understanding the critical state laws governing background checks helps you get the hang of how deep-rooted the protection is.  

Two major state laws include –

  • Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA)
  • Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA)

These laws provide a framework that guides organizations in conducting background checks that are fair and lawful for the land you belong to. 

You might also like: Secure your hiring with these 10 BEST background check sites [Updated for 2023]

2. Role of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

The EEOC plays a pivotal role in ensuring that background checks are conducted in a manner that is fair and non-discriminatory. 

Abiding by the guidelines laid down by the EEOC can protect your organization against potential legal potholes.

3. Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliance

Compliance with the FCRA is essential when it comes to conducting background checks that are ethical and lawful. 

Credit report checks must comply with the FCRA guidelines to ensure that they are fair and non-discriminatory.

4. Understanding “Ban the Box” legislation

The “Ban the Box” legislation seeks to provide individuals with a criminal history a fair chance at employment. 

Understanding and falling in line with this legislation is largely about opening the doors for all, but with all the necessary cautions for optimum safety.

5. Protection through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In order to secure the rights and opportunities available to the disabled, the ADA serves as a barrier break-down between disability and eligibility in terms of merit.

Although mindful of certain positions that require physical fitness, the ADA ensures that an individual’s medical information is never used as a weapon against their employment rights.

6. The power of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Race, color, national origin, sex, or religion – every characteristic vulnerable to discrimination is put under the governance of Title VII

Going a step further, this Act also challenges several employment policies that directly or indirectly affect a marginalized community and its right to fair employment, leveling the job market for all.

3 major reasons to stay mindful of background check ethics

1. Enhancing organizational reputation

Conducting background checks ethically enhances the reputation of your organization, portraying it as a responsible and trustworthy entity.

Hence, your employer brand is going to love it!

2. Enhancing candidate experience

Candidates feel more confident and open when there’s a predetermined code of ethics closely monitoring and fueling the recruitment process.

Candidates truly appreciate an employer who understands the necessity of an ethical approach when digging deep into a profile.

3. Contributing to industry standards

Adhering to a stringent code of ethics contributes to industry standards, setting a benchmark for others to follow. 

This small gesture from your end can help the job market of your respective industry become an even more safe place to hire from. 

12 types of background checks and the respective ethical considerations to follow

12 type of background check ethics to know about

1. Criminal history checks

In this background check, you can delve into a candidate’s past to understand their journey better – putting an effort towards a safe and secure workplace by considering the nature of past offenses.

Ethical considerations:

  • Fairness: Avoid outright disqualification based on criminal records; consider the nature of the offense and its relevance to the job role.
  • Legal compliance: Adhere to the regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and “Ban the Box” legislation.

You might also like: Decoding everything you need to know about criminal background checks

2. Credit reports

This entails examining a candidate’s financial situation. It helps verify whether the applicant aligns with the role offered with their first-hand financial management skills.

Ethical considerations:

  • Relevance: Only conduct credit checks for positions where financial responsibility is a significant aspect of the role.
  • Privacy: Ensure the confidentiality of the financial data obtained.

3. Employment verification

Employment verification is a respectful process of cross-checking a candidate’s career journey, ensuring accuracy in their employment history.

Ethical considerations:

  • Accuracy: Verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate regarding their employment history.
  • Consent: Obtain consent from the candidate before contacting previous employers.

4. Education verification

This step is meant to affirm the authenticity of a candidate’s educational background. The goal is to develop a clear understanding of the foundations of their expertise.

Ethical considerations:

  • Verification: Confirm the authenticity of the educational qualifications provided by the candidate.
  • Non-discrimination: Avoid discrimination based on the prestige of educational institutions.

5. Social media scrutiny

Here, recruiters conduct a prudent review of a candidate’s digital footprint, providing insights into their online persona and whether it sits right with the company values.

Ethical considerations:

  • Privacy: Respect the boundaries of candidates while scrutinizing social media profiles.
  • Relevance: Focus on information that is pertinent to the job role, avoiding personal judgments.

6. Drug testing

Drug testing is often considered a necessary step to maintain a healthy and safe work environment, conducted with utmost respect for a candidate’s privacy.

Ethical considerations:

  • Legal compliance: Adhere to state and federal laws governing drug testing.
  • Privacy: Respect the privacy of candidates, ensuring the confidentiality of the test results.

7. Professional license verification

This test is conducted to vouch for a candidate’s professional credentials, showcasing if they are truly eligible to excel in the desired role.

Ethical considerations:

  • Verification: Confirm the validity of any professional licenses claimed by the candidate.
  • Relevance: Focus on licenses that are directly related to the job role.

8. Reference checks

This is a collaborative process where you get to engage with a candidate’s references to gain a comprehensive view of their professional standing and qualifications in further detail.

Ethical considerations:

  • Informed consent: Inform candidates before contacting references to avoid potential conflicts.
  • Objective evaluation: Maintain an objective stance, focusing on feedback that is relevant to the job role.

You might also like: The reference check handbook: How to thoroughly verify a candidate’s credentials? 

9. International background checks

This background check casts light on the global records of a candidate working or living in other countries before applying for the current job role, trying to understand their past experiences across nations.

Ethical considerations:

  • Cultural sensitivity: Be sensitive to the cultural norms and legal regulations of different countries.
  • Comprehensive scrutiny: Ensure a thorough scrutiny that considers the international background of the candidate.

10. Civil litigation history

Civil litigation history is a careful review of any civil engagements that can provide a glimpse into a candidate’s broader societal context and legal history.

Ethical considerations:

  • Relevance: Focus on civil cases that are relevant to the job role, avoiding unnecessary scrutiny of personal matters.
  • Fair assessment: Consider the nature of the litigation and its implications on the job role.

11. Industry-specific checks

It offers a laser view into a candidate’s industry-specific expertise, verifying alignment with the demands of the role.

Ethical considerations:

  • Relevance: Conduct checks that are specific to the industry, focusing on the qualifications and certifications that are pertinent to the job role.
  • Fairness: Ensure a fair assessment of the candidate based on industry-specific criteria.

12. Home visits

This is a respectful visit to a candidate’s residence, conducted with their consent, building a higher degree of transparency and trust in the employer-employee relationship.

Ethical considerations:

  • Privacy: Respect the privacy of the candidate, ensuring that home visits are conducted with consent and for valid reasons.
  • Dignity: Maintain the dignity of the candidate, avoiding any form of intrusion or disrespect.

It’s the moral responsibility of every recruiter to foster a culture of trust and transparency, paving the way for a recruitment process that is both ethical and lawful. 

And following background check ethics is just the best way to respect the same.

Frequently asked questions

1. How can organizations ensure fairness in background checks?

Ensuring fairness in background checks involves conducting the checks in a manner that is non-discriminatory and inclusive. 

Adhering to the guidelines laid down by the EEOC can guide organizations in establishing a reliable process of background checks.

2. Can background checks include personal interviews?

Yes, personal interviews can indeed be a part of background checks. 

These interviews are often conducted to gather more nuanced insights about a candidate’s character and work ethic

It helps in understanding the candidate’s interpersonal skills and their compatibility with the company’s culture.

3. Are international background checks necessary for remote positions?

Absolutely, conducting international background checks is a prudent step, even for remote positions. 

It ensures that a candidate’s credentials and work history are credible, regardless of their geographical location. 

This process helps in maintaining the integrity and quality standards of the workforce, fostering a trustworthy remote working environment.

4. How frequently should background checks be updated?

It’s recommended that background checks be updated periodically, typically every 2-5 years. 

This practice helps in maintaining an up-to-date understanding of an employee’s circumstances and qualifications. 

It also aids in mitigating any potential risks and ensuring a safe and secure workplace environment.

5. Can candidates dispute the findings of a background check?

Yes, candidates certainly have the right to dispute any inaccuracies or discrepancies found in the background check findings. 

This process ensures that the recruitment procedure remains fair and transparent, allowing candidates to clarify or correct information, promoting a just and equitable hiring process.

6. Are there limitations to the information a background check can provide?

Yes, background checks do have certain limitations. 

They might not always provide a complete picture due to potential data gaps or outdated information. 

To prevent invasion of privacy, the process requires consent for some types of information and adheres to legal boundaries.