Criminal Background Screening: Beyond Criminal Records


This article is the final third of a three part series that examines the role of background checks and reports in modern workplaces.

In the second article of this series, you read about the life cycle of a criminal conviction.  To review:

  • Criminal convictions come from criminal behavior.
  • Convictions are filtered through the criminal justice system.
  • Many convictions are pleas to lesser charges.
  • Convictions data is kept in courthouses all across the nation and in aggregated databases.

Criminal history is useful as a broad screening tool.  Applicants who show a propensity to hurt others or steal property can usually be disqualified for most jobs based upon business necessity.  If an employee assaults their colleagues or clients, or steals company property, the case for disqualification is relatively simple.  Now let’s shift our focus away from criminal courts and see what other sources of re-employment screening data exist.


When a person commits a crime that harms society, they could be convicted in criminal court.  When they violate another person’s rights, they can be held liable in civil court.  Civil court records can include Protection from Stalking or Abuse orders, restraining orders, garnishments, collection forfeitures, breach of contract, evictions, or other judgments.  It is appropriate for applicants for positions that provide access to financial documents, valuables, sensitive information, or petty cash.


It is possible to research a potential worker’s history of claims through State Departments of Labor.  There are additional legal restrictions on these kinds of queries.  The general rule is that this search is only done post-offer, and requires a special privacy waiver by the applicant. There may be additional restrictions in some locations, and some States prohibit this search altogether.


If your applicant will be driving a vehicle on company time or on the company dime, don’t you want to know if they have a valid license, history of DUIs, reckless driving, or evading and eluding police?  The Motor Vehicle Report, or MVR, should be used.  An MVR might be required by your insurance carrier.  In many instances they will provide this search as part of their comprehensive coverage.


Need plus opportunity leads to risk.  If your applicant cannot manage their finances, it speaks to their character and ability to manage job duties.  If they are grossly in debt, have multiple collections, and have a history of defaulting or bankruptcy, they are a higher risk for embezzlement.  If their job duties give them access, check their credit.


Banks, credit unions, and financial institutions should consider checking the myriad of databases maintained by regulatory agencies for the financial industry.  FINCEN, the FDIC, the SEC, the OIG, and many other governmental bodies maintain registries of companies and people who are banned from banking or have been sanctioned for noncompliance.  This is a simple and cost effective way to prevent big problems in a highly regulated trade.


Diploma mills and a culture of embellishment have led to a high rate of inaccuracy on resumes and job applications.  It is advisable to have a third-party conduct verifications with past educational institutions, employers, and credentialing boards.  If it important enough to ask about these qualifications, it is important enough to know that the information provided is correct.  To quote President Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”


Many States compile registries of individuals who have a history of abusing, neglecting, or endangering dependent adults or children.  If the job tasks require interaction with these populations, it is a no-brainer to disqualify anyone who has demonstrated this propensity.  An abuse registry check would be the order of the day!


The legal phrase that motivates background checks to prevent negligent hiring is “best available means”.  Given the huge number of people on social media sites, a check of an applicant’s social media footprint is fast becoming the industry standard.  The wealth of information available through these methods greatly assists the hiring decision.  However, with such power comes great responsibility.  Social media has a greater risk for employers due to its transmission of protected class information.  The EEOC, Federal regulations under Title VII, and the National Labor Relations Board have a lot to say about properly utilizing social media for screening.  Have a policy, get it reviewed by legal counsel familiar with these federal regulations, and only use a professional third-party screening service to view these social media sites.  They are too good not to check, but it does no good to violate applicant’s rights or federal law in this process!

With all of these specialty searches plus the various criminal conviction data sources, building the proper screening system can be overwhelming.  Consult a professional screening service.  For more information about conducting an analysis of what screening searches are best for each job classification, and how to handle the disqualification process in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, check out our website at!


Dan Oblinger is the Training Director for the National Screening Bureau, a leading provider of pre-employment screening, drug-free workplace programs, and I9 compliance services.   He is a ten year veteran of a large metropolitan police department with assignments as a patrol officer, patrol supervisor, undercover detective, crime reduction specialist, drugged driving enforcement investigator, and hostage negotiator.  He has extensive training and experience in crime analysis, criminal identification and apprehension, drug influence, and corporate safety.


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