How To Run An Employee Background Check

By Joe Hoover

Why Conduct an Employee Background Check?

Employees are an important asset to a company or small business. They essentially are the driving force behind production or services rendered. Often employees are the representatives of the business, especially when dealing with customers or clients. Therefore it is vital to the success and well-being of any business to make certain that its employees are honest, responsible and reliable. Employee background checks are vital to that objective. They are the key to insuring that the company or small business has performed its due diligence in the hiring process.

Most employers are aware that an application for a position being offered may often contain false or misleading information. In many instances, the application for a position looks so right that it leads one to ask, ‘Here’s an applicant who meets our company’s standards and appears to be just who we are looking for. Is the information provided accurate and truthful? Has the applicant omitted any important details?’ There is no way to answer these questions without conducting a thorough background check.

At present, 28 states subscribe to a negligent hiring doctrine. Employers can be held responsible for any criminal acts committed by an employee. This is especially risky if the employee is going to be visiting the homes of customers or clients in any capacity that represents the company or business.

If it becomes necessary to discharge an employee, the employer can be held accountable for lost wages or damages if the employee files charges or a suit for what is claimed as wrongful firing.

The Employment Application

The initial step in screening a prospective employee starts with a signed employment application. It is essential that the application include a ‘Release of Information Statement.’ The signed release grants the employer the right to access educational, credit, medical, worker’s compensation, police, criminal and court records. Without a signed release, it is exceptionally difficult to verify the information provided on the written application or any statements made during an initial oral interview.

The Employment Application should ask for the following information:

1. Applicant’s full name and social security number

2. Applicant’s age, date and place of birth

3. Applicant’s current address and telephone number

4. Is current residence a rental or does the applicant own it?

5. Applicant’s past addresses for the last 10 years

6. Name and address of landlords for past 10 years, if applicable


7. Applicant’s educational background and highest degree earned

8. Applicant’s military service record, date and type of discharge

9. Applicant’s passport number and date of expiration, if applicable

10. Name, address and telephone number of current employer

11. Names and addresses of employers for the past ten years

12. Name and address of current bank

13. Three credit references

14. Driver’s license number, state of issue and expiration date

15. Professional licenses or certifications

16. List of vehicles or real property owned

17. Names, addresses and telephone numbers of three relatives not living with applicant

18. Names, addresses and telephone numbers of three personal references

Verification of Employment Application Information

Current Address – It is important to confirm that the applicant lives at the address indicated. If it is an apartment, check with the manager for verification. If the address is a personal residence, a check with the county recorder’s office will verify ownership of the home or condominium.

Education – It is important to verify the applicant’s educational background. If the subject is a college or university graduate, an official sealed transcript from the institution that awarded the highest degree can be requested from the applicant. This is a standard practice that eliminates the need to contact the registrar’s office at the college or university, as most will not provide that information even with a signed release. Transcripts are issued only upon the request of the former student, and a fee is assessed for an official record. Most college or university graduates are in possession of sealed transcripts when searching for a new position.

Unless the position being applied for is of a highly sensitive nature, the employer does not normally seek information from high school and college or university personnel, relying upon the transcript for verification. College and university transcripts show grades earned, honors awarded and those classes the student did not pass or was withdrawn from.

Employer’s Interview – It is important to request information from former employers regarding dates of employment, job description, responsibilities, skills, job performance, employee productivity, honesty and integrity of the applicant. Also inquire as to any weaknesses; in the work ethic and attitude of the subject in question and whether the employer would be willing to rehire.

Normally a current employer is only contacted if the applicant gives permission, as many people who apply for new positions do not want their current employer to know they are planning to leave. This can have an adverse impact upon their present position.

Question Any Unexplained Gaps in the Employment Record – It is very important to look at the dates of employment for past years. If a job candidate has something to hide regarding past employment, they will either falsify their dates of employment or simply just omit a span of years without explanation. It is important to be certain that no unexplained gaps exist.

References – It is very important to talk to those persons listed as references. Given that an applicant will only list those whom he or she believes will provide favorable information, it is also important to talk with previous employment supervisors and co-workers, if possible. Ask about relationships with the applicant, and how long each person interviewed has known the applicant. Inquire about the subject’s work ethic and any potential problems that may affect the new position.

Background Records Check

After conducting the initial interviews and verifications noted above, it is important to proceed to the next stage: doing a background records check. This is especially vital if any doubts regarding the character of the applicant have been raised during the interview screening of employers, referees or co-workers.

Driving Records – Conduct a driver record search if the applicant will be driving a personal or company vehicle. The state’s department of motor vehicles keeps records for three to 11 years, depending upon the state being checked. Such a records check will reveal any traffic violations, DUI’s, suspensions or revocations. Any DUI should raise a question regarding problems with alcohol.

To conduct a driving records search it is imperative to have a valid driver’s license number, which can be obtained by making a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license at the time the application is submitted. This is a routine practice among most potential employers.

Professional Licenses or Certifications – If the applicant’s occupation is one that requires licensing or certification, inquire at the Secretary of State, Department of Labor, Accountancy Board, Board of Medical Examiners or other appropriate licensing or certification agency regarding the current status of the license or certificate. It is also important to inquire in other states, if the employment record shows employment outside of the state in which the current employment application is being made.

Military Records – If the employee listed military service, ask for form DD-214, which will indicate the period of military service and the type of discharge given. Most military records of service are not available for public inspection, but if the employment application indicates military service during the past 3 years, direct contact with a commanding officer will provide personal information providing the applicant’s military position was not classified.

Worker’s Compensation – As a potential employer, it is important to check to see if the applicant’s past history of employment contains any record of accidents and/ or injury. A Worker’s Compensation Claim History is comprised of two parts, The First Report of Injury and Contested Claims. These records show the date and type of injury, time lost from work and the disposition of the case. A follow up with the employer listed in the report will provide information regarding the integrity of the claim and whether the potential employee has a history of abusing the system. Worker’s Compensation Claim History is especially important if the potential applicant will be performing any physical tasks on the new job where the risk of injury exists.

Credit Report – The Credit Header portion of a credit report contains names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers, as reported by the subject in question. Headers are indexed by social security number. Some credit headers show the employer’s name and also the name of the subject’s spouse. The header provides verification that the individual is who he or she claims to be. Such information is available only through information providers. The actual credit report, which shows an account and payment history, credit activity, debt load, evictions, collections, judgments and bankruptcies, is available to a potential employer, but only with a signed release from the applicant.

Social Trace Detail – This is an excellent source for verifying address history, lists of relatives and neighbors and the names of any other individuals reporting the same address.

Uniform Commercial Code Filings – Each state’s secretary of state office maintains UCC records regarding civil litigation by individuals and business entities. These records show names and addresses of plaintiffs and defendants, ‘doing business as’ names, court of record, county and filing date. In addition they provide social security or tax identification numbers, asset/lien filings, amounts of judgments, evictions and bankruptcies.

Federal Bankruptcy Court – The records from the bankruptcy court may divulge information regarding financial difficulties of an applicant. This can sometimes be a deciding factor regarding the hiring of the applicant.

Court Records – Court records are available as public record at the county, state and federal levels. County level records often yield the most complete information, regarding both civil and criminal activities.

Federal court records are maintained at Federal District Courts. The State Supreme Court and Department of Justice keep state records. Normally these are stored in a central criminal records repository.

When doing a routine criminal history search, it should include a review of county court records, statewide criminal courts and a national Department of Corrections felon search.

National Criminal Search – If the application shows that the subject has moved from state to state, a nationwide criminal search should be conducted. Such a search will reveal any charges, adjudications and aliases that might have been used. The criminal search is most critical if the person being considered for employment will be working in one’s home, caring for family members and/or driving one’s vehicles. The background of potential domestic help, child, elderly or health care providers or anyone having access to the home is essential to guaranteeing peace of mind. If the applicant is being represented by an agency, it is wise to also check on the reputation and authenticity of the agency.

National Public Records Search – An information provider can assist in accomplishing both statewide and national criminal records searches. Employee screeners offer expert assistance with such database searches. To initiate such a search, all that is required is the applicant’s full name, date of birth and social security number.

Other Checks – Depending upon the applicant’s duties and job requirements, there may be other types avenues of investigation that an employer will wish to take. For instance, if the person being considered was self-employed or owned a business, it is wise to conduct or commission a Business Background Check.

About the Author: Joe Hoover is CEO of Investigative Professionals, Background Checks USA & How to Investigate website. He authored “SECRETS OF TOP PRIVATE EYES” a private investigators training course. HowToInvestigate for Individuals Investigative Professionals Business Members Secrets of Top Private Eyes PI Course


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