Hiring a new employee can–and quite often is–seen by employers as being something of a leap of faith.

But in much the same way that two nations signing treaties often require a means for verification that the other party is adhering to the terms of their agreement, employers nationwide—often in partnership with PeopleFacts—rely on background checks prior to hiring a new employee.

Yet despite a company’s desire—and need—to ensure that a potential new hire has not misrepresented his or herself during the application process, there are federally mandated boundaries that limit the scope and nature of employment background checks.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)–the government agency charged with ensuring fairness in the workplace—there are several ‘dos & don’ts’ that all U.S. employers must follow when performing pre-employment background checks. The federal government clearly delineates these boundaries, and employers would be well advised to follow the guidelines, as the penalties for not doing so can be considerable.

When seeking background information on a job applicant, you must comply with The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s also important to be aware—and comply with–additional state and local laws that establish other boundaries regarding background checks. See a list of helpful compliance laws and acts here.

For its part, the most significant federal rules governing employment background checks, as outlined by the EEOC, include:

In all cases, ensure that all applicants are treated equally; it is against federal law to make an employment decision based on race, sex, color, national original, disability or age; in all but the rarest cases, it is also illegal to request an applicant’s ‘genetic history’—including family medical history.
Inform the applicant—in writing, and in a ‘stand-alone’ format–that information you garner from a background check may affect your hiring decision
If you are requesting an ‘investigative report’ on the applicant, you must tell the applicant about the nature and scope of the investigation
Get the applicant’s written permission to perform the background check
Certify to any company providing the background report—such as PeopleFacts—that the applicant has given his or her permission for the report, you’ve complied with all the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) guidelines, and that you will not discriminate or misuse the background information provided
Apply the exact same standards regarding hiring to all applicants
Be prepared to make exceptions to job requirements for problems revealed during a background check that were the result of a disability

If you decide not to hire someone based on information gathered during a background check by a company such as PeopleFacts, federal law requires you provide the applicant with a copy of the consumer report relied upon to make that decision, as well as a copy of the summary of rights under FCRA, which the screening company should have provided you. After the decision not to hire is reached based on that report, the applicant must be told either verbally, in writing or electronically, that he or she was rejected because of information in the report, and then:

Given the name, address, and phone number of the company that sold the report;
Told that the company selling the report didn’t make the hiring decision, and can’t give specific reasons for it; and
Told that he or she has a right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of the report, and to get an additional free report from the reporting company within 60 days.

As is readily apparent, performing a background check on a potential employee requires effort and due diligence. However, that’s why a growing number of companies nationwide rely on PeopleFacts to help simplify the process of hiring the very best applicants available—while adhering to all the applicable employment regulations.