Pre-employment screening, limited in previous years to cash-handling, government and top management employee hiring, is now pervasive.

Employers more often focus on proactive ways to cut employee theft and workplace violence incidents. And thanks to a proliferation of drug testing and background investigation firms, the ease of conducting checks through the Internet and dropping prices, more employers and their security operations conduct some level of background check or testing as part of the hiring decision.

Some security and human resources departments conduct their own pre-employment background investigations. However, there is a downside to such a do-it-yourself approach: higher expense, more time spent on the investigation as well as limited access to key records.

Use of Third Parties

So it is not surprising that many employers and their security executives turn to private investigators and, more recently, to specialty Web—based background checking services.

Generally, background checks drill into three types of data: criminal records, consumer—specific financial/credit reports and personal information ranging from employment and housing to educational history. In each case, there are candidate and employee rights as well as employer obligations under state and federal consumer reporting laws, local laws and regulations as well as privacy rules.

Executives interviewed by SECURITY magazine cite two major factors influencing the complexity and growth of pre—employment screenings. The Internet has made it easy for some to specialize in instant checks. These firms either conduct a check for a client or provide the client a secure, Web—based connection for self searches.

The other major factor is the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, revised late last year, and its companion federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act of 2003. In both cases, the legislation governs the acquisition and use of most consumer background information about candidates for employment and employees. While numerous states regulate the use of background checks – California for one has tougher regulations – the federal legislation sets the tone.

Diversity of Services

Background investigation services, especially on the Web, offer a variety of services and database access.

For example, Rapsheets, which checks criminal records and sex offender registries, does not acquire records from credit reporting agencies such as Trans Union L.C.C. or Experian. Rather, it maintains computer connections to the bureaus to enable its client base to perform identity verification. Rapsheets maintains relationships with database owners at the local, metropolitan and state court levels; in corrections – jails and prisons; at law enforcement agencies; and through sex offender registries.

The Web also allows candidates to complete employment application forms and authorize background checks online and from anywhere. The Homeland Security effort also has created interest, if not a lot of business, in background checking. A number of services now connect to U.S. Department of Commerce and other federal databases related to terror threats.

SIDEBAR: Fair Credit Compliance Awareness

Security and human resource executives agree there are important steps when a third party or employer conducts a background check that includes consumer information gathered under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.


  • Disclosure — In writing, tell the job candidate that a background check will be requested.
  • Authorization — Obtain a consent signature.
  • Check Box — If the candidate wants a copy of the report, provide a check box so the candidate can initiate the request.
  • Certification — The employer must certify compliance with applicable federal and state laws and regulations. The background check or investigation company can provide such forms.
  • Provide a copy of the report — There are two primary reasons to provide a copy of the report. The first reason is if the candidate checked the box requesting a copy. The second reason is when adverse action is taken and is based on information in the consumer report. In California, a copy of the report must be provided if some or all of the information is “a matter of public record.”
  • Be detailed — If there is adverse action anticipated, provide the job candidate a summary of federal rights, a description of the action to be taken and an indication of the length of time before the action is taken. The candidate or employee must be provided time to correct any inaccurate information.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, advice on