Criminal background checks are a useful tool for assessing employment candidates.  The intent to perform the checks for employment positions must be specified in advance of recruiting to ensure there is no possibility of bias in the administration (see EEOC rules here ).  It i important to understand what you may not know about criminal background checks.  Below are some of the many considerations companies face when choosing background checks.

What You May Not Know About Criminal Background Checks

What You May Not Know About Criminal Background Checks
photo by; Victor

Every employer I have worked for in my career performed background checks for some or all positions.  This despite a large expense and the knowledge that there are severe limitations to the usefulness of background checks.  The basic “rule of thumb” is to perform background checks that go back seven years and cover all jurisdictions in which the applicants lived.  Given this and also the large number of companies that use background checks, it is prudent for companies to follow this “rule of thumb” to demonstrate to their employees and possibly the courts that the company uses due diligence in their hiring commensurate with general practice.

Nearly 90% of US employers perform background checks as part of the hiring process for some or all of their hiring.  While some times there are errors (see, these are uncommon.  A company must have a policy regarding a possible error on a background check and how they plan to handle this situation.  Will the company help the candidate challenge the error, suspend hiring and allow the candidate time to challenge the error on their own, or remove the candidate from consideration?  The approach must be formalized in a policy in advance of this situation arising.

The limitations of background checks are important to understand.  Many are under the false assumption that these checks are akin to background checks that law enforcement has access to, but this is not the case.  Following the “rule of thumb” many employers use as noted above, it is important to understand that any crime committed outside the jurisdictions specified will generally not be identified.  For example, if a candidate lived in NJ for the last seven years and committed an armed robbery in Manhattan, this crime would not be identified on the background check because NY was not included.  In most states the background checks must be done by jurisdiction which leaves open the possibility that the applicant committed a crime within the state but not in the jurisdiction in which they live.  This also would not show on the background check.

Some states have adopted a unified background check that avoids the jurisdiction problem noted above.  For example, New York State has a unified system for statewide background checks inclusive of all jurisdictions for a fee of $65 ( ).  On the contrary, New Jersey does not have a unified system.  If a company wanted to perform a criminal background check for the entire state of NJ that is possible.  They will need to request and pay for a background check in each jurisdiction at a cost of approximately $30/jurisdiction.

Criminal background checks should be used for certain employment positions at every company.  These positions should include senior management, those w/ access to significant cash or assets and those in a work location where an employee could present a difficult to manage danger to other employees (e.g., a remote location).  To make the best use of background checks a company needs to define a policy, consider situations that may arise and develop procedures for such situations (e.g., paragraph 2 above), define which employment positions require a background check, and administer the checks consistently and without bias.  Proper oversight of this program will help you…leverage compliance.


About the Author

Glenn Murphy, the co-founder of BestGRC and founder of GRC Management Consulting, primarily focuses on empowering entities to leverage their compliance activities through the BestGRC “cloud” software, his consulting work, publications and the “Leverage Compliance” blog.  Find Glenn’s full profile at , follow him @GlennMurphyGRC and subscribe to the Leverage Compliance blog at