We spend a massive portion of our lives with our work colleagues, bosses, and employees. But how much do we really know about each other beneath that professional facade? Getting to the bottom of this question is relatively easy with the people you get on well with, but office politics can throw up barriers that block the transparency needed for true peace of mind. And then, sometimes an individual’s behavior can cross a line or even give you cause for worry. In that situation, a background check can offer a valuable insight into the person and why they might be behaving as they are.
There is in important distinction to keep in mind, however: running a work-related background check is fundamentally different to running an employment check. An employment check is the process by which an employer can find out more about existing staff to candidates for jobs. It is overseen by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as well as various state laws, and there are a number of legal requirements behind running such a check.
We’ll cover employment checks in greater depth later on in the article, but first we’re going to present some guidance on how to conduct work-related background checks, along with four recommendations for the best background checking sites to use.
Whether you work in a large or small company, it’s quite likely that you’ll find yourself working alongside a whole host of people you barely know. Through gossip, idle chitchat, and even meaningful conversations at social functions or on break, that unfamiliarity will be eroded. But to what extent?
It may very well be that water cooler banter is concealing ulterior motives or even sinister intentions. It could even be more overt than all that, with a flirty colleague barely hiding their interest. In any case, it’s useful to know just who you’re dealing with.
This is where a work-related background check comes in. Just like anyone else, you have the right to search through publicly available data to retrieve specific information on someone. You could try to do this manually, but that entails a lot of labor and time you may not have available. Instead, turn to an online background checking site, which has powerful search methods that can comb through a far larger body of information than you ever could to return results that are actually useful to you. Armed with this info, you can better decide how to deal with that certain someone in the office.
If you do have a work colleague who you want to know more about, it is important to choose the right background checking site to help you in your research. But this can be a tricky choice. There are lots of sites out there, and all claim to be the best around. The reality is standards vary quite dramatically from site to site.
When choosing the best site, there are a few core criteria you should, therefore, look out for:
- Fast Results – People are usually looking for quick results, and the best sites around can deliver just that, with basic results available in a few minutes and a full report in no more than a few days.
- Thorough Research – You’ll want to know that you are receiving comprehensive information to give as clear an insight as possible. Choose a site which searches through as many different data sources as possible.
- Accurate and Comprehensible Reports – Accurate information is absolutely vital, and it also needs to be easy to understand. This means that the final report in which the data is presented needs to be easy to read, simple to understand, and contain minimal errors.
- Search Customization – You may not know much about some colleagues beyond their name. But with the best sites, that should be enough, as they can generate accurate results from a bare minimum of starting information.
- Good Customer Support – If you encounter any problems with the search process or the results, you will need to turn to customer support. You therefore want to know that their site offers a reliable and accessible customer support service.
- Usable Dashboard – Most sites use a dashboard for users to manage their searches and results. It is important that this tool to be easy to navigate and use, and attractive to boot.
Each of the sites we have recommended below ticks all of these boxes, and for work-related searches are without a doubt the best sites around. Please note, these services are not suitable for running employment checks.
BeenVerified is our top pick for running a work-related background check, thanks to their excellent all-round service and impressive levels of accuracy. Their services are broken up into a two-tier pricing structure, but even at their basic level, they deliver lots of useful data. You can expect to find out about things like criminal records, financial records, property reports, social media data and address history, and more for a nominal fee. At their premium level, they will dig out even more useful information. They can even send a runner to look up undigitized court documents if necessary.
BeenVerified’s final reports are as good as they come, bringing a complexity of highly accurate information together in an ultimately readable format. Their online dashboard is similarly user-friendly, as are their dedicated mobile apps for both Android and iOS devices. Customer support is available at long hours via email or phone, and always proved to be fast and helpful in our testing.
Another impressive site for work-related background checks is Instant CheckMate. They also use a two-tiered payment system, which, at the basic rate will search through criminal records, marriage and divorce records, details of relatives, address history, social media profiles, and more. At their higher rate, they will also look into things like financial history, driving licenses and weapons licenses.
CheckMate’s final reports are extremely detailed and yet impressively simple to read and understand. Your search data is easily viewed within their attractive online dashboard, while Android users can enjoy the benefits of a dedicated app for this same task. Customer service is excellent, with friendly and helpful staff available round the clock to provide prompt responses to any queries you may have.
TruthFinder is a standout among background checking sites due to the depth of their research. Indeed, they claim to parse millions of public records, and even offer a unique deep web research service. In testing, they were certainly able to pull a huge amount of accurate data. TruthFinder offers two rates of service, with the basic level searching criminal records, driving records, personal information, details of immediate family and friends, and other details. For a small premium, you’ll glean education history, voter registration records, weapons licenses, and a whole host of other data.
Truthfinder delivers their results in a well-designed and extremely easy-to-read final report. Their online dashboard is simple to use, even if you are a beginner. They also offer a really user-friendly Android app too. However, there isn’t an app for iOS devices yet, though Apple fans can still freely access their search data on the dashboard. Finally, their customer support service is exceptional, being open around the clock and reachable through a convenient toll-free number. When you’re searching for a service to complete your work-related background check, TruthFinder is a powerful contender for the very best of your available options.
Our fourth and final recommended site is Intelius, which offers an impressive all-round research service. They search a huge range of data points, and can easily dig out contact details, address history, criminal records, sex offender register details, financial history, property records, and educational history. Their attention to detail really impressed us in testing, and user feedback seems to support our findings. Indeed, they have already delivered more than 50 million successful background checks.
Intelius offers a sleek and extremely usable online dashboard. Their final reports are thorough and detailed but still quite easy to read and understand. They also offer nice apps for both Android and iOS devices, which user rate highly. However, their customer support didn’t quite live up to some of their rivals. In testing, we found it a little slow and not always the most helpful. But their online troubleshooter did impress and proved useful for DIY solution-finding whenever it was needed. Despite this final point, Intelius more than earns its spot on our list due to the quality of its core offering, and is well worth your consideration in conducting a workplace-related background check.
What Is an Employment Background Check?
As we alluded to at the beginning of this article, there is an important distinction between a work-related background check and a proper employment background check. The term “employment background check” is used to describe a search to check up on a prospective employee. Hiring someone to work for you is a big and expensive decision, so it is understandable that both large and small employers want to do everything possible to ensure they are taking on an asset rather than a liability. Running an employment background check can tell them a lot about an applicant.
They are especially important if you are hiring someone for a position of trust. If an applicant is going to have access to corporate or financial information, you want to be sure they don’t have any dodgy financial history or relevant criminal convictions. If the job involves driving, you need to sure your candidate has a clean license and no driving convictions.
Recommendations for Running an Employment Background Check
In the USA, employers large and small usually have some process in place to run background checks on prospective employees. While this is good professional practice, there are legal reasons for doing so as well. Background checking candidates falls under a law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which stipulates what employers can and cannot do, and what information they need employee permission to search for.
It is therefore recommended that employers seeking to run a background check should follow these steps:
Have a Consistent Background Checking Policy
All employers, regardless of size, should have a clearly communicated background checking policy in place. Failure to have a standard practice runs the risk of legal action in the future if a current or potential employee feels they have been discriminated against. Businesses should draft a company background checking policy and ensure that all staff and applicants are aware of it.
This policy doesn’t necessarily have to be standard practice across the whole company. There can be different background checking policies for different positions or areas of the company. But just running haphazard background checks based on personal suspicions or feelings about someone is a definite ‘no-no’, and likely to result in accusations of discrimination. Equally, if a company is going to run a background check on one candidate for a role, they will need to do the same for every other candidate too.
Give Candidates a Chance to Explain Findings
Background checks are not always 100% accurate and mistakes will sometimes happen. It is also possible that the data sources can be out of date or inaccurate. It is therefore vital that, if a background check does turn up relevant information, the candidate or employee is given a chance to explain it.
Having a system in place to allow this is beneficial for both parties. From the candidate’s point of view, they get the chance to salvage their job application, and from the employer’s point of view, they have the opportunity to keep a potentially attractive candidate in the process.
Take Background Checks Seriously
It is quite easy for something like a background check to become routine for companies and for staff to just go through the motions rather than focus on running the check properly. This is a mistake. Attention to detail is vital when running a background check. If they enter the incorrect information about a candidate, a company runs the risk of getting the wrong information back. This could mean they miss out on a vitally important piece of information which could sway their final employment decision.
Reference Checks and Investigative Consumer Reports – Know the Difference
A reference check is asking a current or former employer to verify specific details a candidate has given an employer about a former job. This can include things like dates of employment, title and responsibilities of the job, and salary earned. But when a company presses a candidate’s former boss for opinions about their work ethic or character, this becomes an investigative consumer report.
This distinction is important because an investigative consumer report falls under Federal law. If you want to carry one out, you are required to give sufficient notice to the applicant. You must also provide them with the option to ask for details, and comply with any requests they may make.
Employment Background Checks Must Be FCRA Compliant
Employment background checks fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), so all employers must ensure that they are compliant with this legislation. All companies running employment background checks are advised to consult with a lawyer to make sure that their policies are lawful, not least because the law can vary from state to state. There are a few crucial pointers that all employers should remember in relation to the FCRA (but please do not take these as an alternative to proper legal advice):
Get the Candidate’s Permission to Use an External Background Checking Company
If a business plans to use an outside company to carry out a background check, they need written permission from the candidate before proceeding. This is also true if they want to access a credit report, detailed military records, or school transcripts. Provided they make a request to this in a reasonable manner, they are permitted to remove the candidate from the application process if this permission is refused.
Ensure You are Using an FCRA-compliant Service
For a formal employment background check, businesses need to be sure that the site they are using to run the check is verified as being FCRA compliant. All sites that are FCRA compliant will state the fact clearly on their website. If you are not sure, ask the question of their customer support staff. It is important to note that none of the sites we have recommended above claim to be FCRA compliant. This means that while they are ideal for a general work-related background check, they are not suitable for employment background checks.
Ensure You Are Compliant with State and Local Laws, too
While it is important to ensure that employment background check is carried out in line with the FCRA, there are other laws that companies need to be aware of as well. Many states have legislation in place governing this issue, and breaching these laws is no less serious than the FCRA. This is why we recommend companies take local legal advice before running any employment background checks.
What Information Can an FCRA-compliant Employment Background Check Reveal?
FCRA compliant employment background checks can access slightly different information from a regular site. The precise information available can vary from state to state, as it depends on both local laws and specific job vacancies in question. But, in general terms, an employment background check will be able to return the following information:
- Criminal Records Check – The details of any national or county criminal records a candidate may have. It is also possible to unearth court transcripts, too.
- Social Security Number Validation – Check that the social security number given is legitimate and find information that may be linked to that number. This can include things like dates of birth, address histories, and any name changes or aliases the candidate may have.
- Address Histories – These determine where the candidate has lived previously to help confirm that their CV and other details given in the application process are accurate.
- Terror Watch List Check – Confirm that the candidate is not on any terrorist watch list.
- Sex Offender Register Check – Confirm that the candidate is not on any sex offenders register.
- Driving Records – See if a candidate has a clear driving license or any driving-related offences. This may be a critical determinant for certain jobs that require the regular use of a vehicle.
- Credit Report – Gain an insight into how the candidate manages his or her finances. This can be useful if the role being applied for entails financial responsibilities. Businesses will need written permission to carry this one out.
- Military Records – If a candidate has served in the armed forces, it is permitted to see their service records. Again, they will need written permission to do so.
- Student Transcripts – Confirm that applicants stated achievements at school are accurate, but once more written permission is needed.
- Professional Licenses – Confirmthat a candidate holds the professional licenses claimed on their resume as well as seeing what other professional licenses they hold.
- State Licenses – Confirm that a candidate holds the state licenses claimed on their resume as well as seeing what other state licenses they hold.
- Workers Compensation – Some employers are keen to see details of any previous workplace compensation claims a candidate has made. This is sometimes possible but can be subject to legal restrictions in some areas. It is best to seek legal advice before accessing this data.
So, it’s clear to see that background checks in the workplace entail a fair amount of complexity. On the one hand, checking into a coworker’s intentions by sifting through publicly available data can be an effective tactic in maintaining good standing amidst company politics. However, more officially background checks used to hire on new personnel are strictly regulated by various governing bodies.
Regardless of your position in this constellation of factors, one thing remains constant: knowledge is power. Whether you’re in charge of formulating hiring policy or simply trying to decode interactions around the water cooler, knowing the ins and outs of the background checking industry will be a powerful asset in your endeavors.
Have you run a workplace-related background check on a coworker? If so, why? Let us know about it in the comments below!
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