The History of Employment Background Screening

3 min read
Fri, Jan 26, 2018

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Background checks reveal information about a person's character, reputation, and experience. Depending on the types of screens, these exploratory investigations vary on the information they'll uncover.  Employers may use background checks to disclose personal finance information, civil records, education, licensing, criminal records, and previous employment history.

As more employers rely on background checks to screen job candidates, the history of employment background screening reveals why.

The History of Employment Background Screening

Risk Management

To discover the history of background checks, we must first understand an employer's reasoning for managing risk. Employers have a responsibility to keep its employees and customers safe. In cases where an employee becomes violent or displays criminal behavior, the employer can be accused of negligent hiring, taken to court, and be responsible for punitive damages.  

Negligent hiring law first appears in a 1908 case of an apprentice's prank that accidentally killed a fellow employee. The employer was held liable for the death because they had witnessed the apprentice's reckless action but kept him employed anyway.  From 1911 - 1933, the law was expanded to cover acts that occurred outside of employment (hiring someone with a violent disposition) and violence against customers injured by an employee. A 1951 case tells of a delivery man who "made an indecent attack" on a housewife. The employer, the court advised, was to be held responsible for the "reasonable care to select employees competent and fit for the work assigned to them and to refrain from retaining the services of an unfit employee", especially since their employees dealt with the public. By the late 1970's, more employers were being held liable for negligent hiring

Background checks manage risk for employers by:

  • Building a culture and reputation of trust and good will.
  • Creating a safe working environment.
  • Uncovering a potential for fraud, theft, or criminal activity.
  • Reducing turnover due to hiring the wrong candidate.
  • Revealing false information found on employment applications or resumes.
  • Providing proof to insurance underwriters that employees pose no risk. 
  • Protecting the employer from liability in the case of violence in the workplace.

Types of Pre-Employment Background Checks

Because of the history of negligent hiring, employers now choose to perform due diligence on candidates, when they are hired and when they are promoted or change jobs to positions that require more screening. There are many different types of background checks to investigate the trustworthiness and reputation of a new hire.

The most common background checks for pre-employment are:

  • Identity Verification / Social Security Number Trace
  • Criminal History Data (records pulled from County, State, and Federal courts)
  • Sex Offender Information
  • Education Verification
  • Employment Verification
  • Pre-Employment Drug Test

See How VeriFirst Performs  Background Checks and Drug Screening

What are Professional Background Screening Companies?

While it's true that anyone can obtain information over the internet, professional background screening companies understand the limits to acquiring such data. Trained experienced staff recognize the potential for mismatched information, how that information becomes outdated, and how to verify its veracity. There are also ethical and legal ramifications for using screening reports that are inaccurate. 

A trusted professional background check company will be affiliated with the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). Founded in 2003, the NAPBS was established to champion high performance and ethical standards in the background screening industry. NAPBS members vow to uphold compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), fair business practices, and protect consumer privacy. 

With the history of negligent hiring and a rising awareness of other risks of hiring a potentially abusive candidate, professional background screening will continue to be available for employers who wish to build a safer workplace.

Have questions about how background checks protect your employees? Leave a comment below or contact VeriFirst.

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