Wednesday 3 November 2010

Pre-employment background investigations

Pre-employment background investigations


‘Pre-employment background investigations are investigations conducted to gather necessary background information on a potential employment candidate’. These investigations can be done directly by the employer or by a contract with a service provider (Kovacich & Halibozek, 2006, p. 101). These investigations verify ‘the legitimacy of the information provided by the applicant on an employment application or resume’ (Bogardus, 2004, p. 79). Background checks also help employers to safeguard themselves from a number of ‘problems ranging from embezzlement and theft of merchandise to workplace violence’ (Bohlander & Snell, 2009, p. 263). Besides there is also a legal requirement for employers to conduct comprehensive background checks as they can be held liable for providing employment to inappropriate employees. Therefore, pre-employment background investigations are an essential part of the overall evaluation and selection process for future prospective employees (Kovacich & Halibozek, 2006, p.101).

The number of employers relying on background checks has increased drastically. In 1993, only around 50 % of all employers said that they conducted background checks on prospective employees. This number rose to 96 percent in the year 2005 (Schramm, 2005, p. 128).

Importance of pre-employment background investigations

As mentioned earlier, pre-employment background investigations are very important for every employer. Following are the reasons that contribute towards the significance of the pre-employment background investigations.

  1. To safeguard the assets and resources: Pre-employment background investigation is important to safeguard the assets and resources of the company. Hiring employees who have previous records of theft could increase risks to the security of company’s assets and resources (Bizmanualz, 2008, p. 263).

Example 5: A court case between Mycom and Persona presents a good example of risks to the assets of a firm by hiring a employee without pre-employment background investigation. In the case, the plaintiff’s firm hired an employee without conducting rudimentary background check. The employee was later found embezzling money from the plaintiff’s firm. It was also learned that the employee had a history of theft. Therefore, a proper background investigation could have helped in avoiding the theft (

  1. To prevent workplace violence: Hiring employees with past background of violence incidents could lead to future instances of workplace violence. Therefore, investigating job applicant’s past conduct is very important to avoid future problems and disruptions at workplace (Nixon & Kerr, 2008, p. 8). Also employers can be held liable for violence incidents at workplace and they could be made to compensate for such incidents.

  1. Data protection: Organizations could significantly risk the protection of the data it holds if it employs people who are not fit enough or unsuitable. This could lead to misuse of important consumer data which could cost companies a lot in terms of money, reputation, time etc.

Example 6: A temp worker at AT&T allegedly stole the identities of 2,100 employees to take out $70,000 worth of short-term payday loans in the names of 130 of them (

  1. To protect the workforce for criminals and terrorists: A proper background investigation is also important to keep the workforce free from criminals and terrorists. Again, this could lead to bad reputation, costly lawsuits and risk to the safety of the other staff members and customers.

Example 7: A claim on negligent hiring was brought by tenant against the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County for damages resulting from a sexual assault. The tenant was raped by a housing inspector employed by HOC. HOC failed to complete a background investigation. The perpetrator had previous convictions of robbery and assault and at the time was under indictment for rape. (

  1. Employment history check: Pre-employment background checks are also necessary to verify the claims of past employment. This could help the employer understand the experience level of the applicants (Halibozek et al, 2008, p. 111).

  1. Education verifications: The educational qualifications that the applicants claim to have also need to be verified. This makes the pre-employment background checks very important (Halibozek et al, 2008, p. 111).

Example 8: A top executive of the InterContinental Hotels group was forced to quit after lying about his academic qualifications. Therefore it is important to conduct background investigation to verify academic qualifications prior to hiring an employee. . (

  1. Driving licence validity: Some jobs may require the applicants to possess a valid driving licence with less than a certain number of negative points.

Example 9: E.on Gas and Electricity (U.K.) require its sales advisers to possess a valid driving licence as one of the job eligibility requirements (Personal experience). Therefore, every applicant who claims to have a valid driving licence needs to be verified. Therefore, pre-employment background checks are necessary to verify such requirements.

  1. Credit check: Background checks prior to employment are also important for credit checks. Most financial-related positions require the applicant to have positive credit scores to safeguard themselves from fraud people (Halibozek et al, 2008, p. 111).

  1. Civil records check: ‘In some cases, it may be necessary to conduct a civil records check, particularly with financial concerns. Civil records can provide information related to the areas which indicate potential financial issues such as divorce, child support, alimony, bankruptcy etc’ (Halibozek et al, 2008, p. 111).

  1. Eligibility to work legally: Pre-employment background checks also helps to find out the eligibility of the employee to work legally as some immigrants may not be allowed to work due to visa restrictions and hiring those employees could lead to legal problems and monetary losses.

  1. Medical fitness: Pre-employment background checks are also essential to understand the medical fitness of the candidate. Some candidates may be unfit to work and may spread diseases to fellow employees and customers. Again, this might lead to lawsuits and hefty compensations.

Example 10: American Airlines was sued by a passenger for negligently hiring a employee who was suffering from AIDS and could potentially become dangerous for passengers (

Conducting pre-employment background investigations

As described above, conducting pre-employment background investigations is very important for any organization. However, it is not an easy task to conduct such investigation. There are a number of legal, ethical, social and economical issues involved in the process. Due to the complex nature of the investigation, many organizations outsource such check to external specialist service providers. For example, a company called OMX Securities outsource their pre-employment investigation to external service provider called Kroll (Personal experience). However, some organizations do the investigation in-house.

Employers conducting background and reference checks must consider ‘legal guidelines, establish a background check policy, and select a reputable vendor’ (Arthur, 2005a, p. 253).

Legal guidelines: Employers must consider and follow the legal guidelines regarding issues such as invasion of privacy, defamation, discrimination and other sensitive issues when conducting background investigation of prospective employees. Breach of legal guidelines could lead to costly lawsuits and hefty compensations (Arthur, 2005a, p. 253).

Establishing background screening policy: It is important to establish a written, sound, effective and efficient corporate policy for background checks along with accompanying procedures for the organisation to follow (Nixon & Kerr, 2008, p. 8). The policy should contemplate its purpose and identify the areas that background checks could cover. The policy should be communicated to all applicants and mention that how the acquired information could be used (Arthur, 2005a, p. 270).

Use of screening providers/vendors: Another important task in conducting pre-employment background investigation is hiring an external service provider. These agencies are specialists and have the necessary expertise to carry out the investigations. Also the investigation is completed in less time and is normally cheaper than in-house arrangements (Nixon & Kerr, 2008, p. 13). However, employers must take into consideration the methods that the vendor uses to acquire information, vendor’s knowledge of legal issues, insurance policies etc while selecting these vendors (Arthur, 2005a, p. 270).

Example 11: Kroll and LexisNexis are two examples of specialist background investigation providers. TD Waterhouse Corporate Services (Birmingham) uses Kroll as their preferred vendor for pre-employment background screening (Personal experience).

Reference checks: Employment history and qualifications claims could be verified using reference checks. Job applicants should be asked to give references about past employers and educational institutions, so that their past employment and qualifications could be verified. Also this could be used as a means of getting information about the applicant’s past performance and conduct.

Example 12: British Gas plc verifies information provided by candidates about employment history by calling references and asking them to provide information about dates of employment in any particular company and his or her conduct in the period of service to that organization (Source: Personal experience).

Use of Denied persons list and database: Denied Persons list and database is list of terrorists and criminals maintained and updated by US and UK in conjunction with several other governments. The job applicant’s details should be checked against the Denied Persons lists and database. This helps reduce the probability of hiring a known terrorist (Halibozek et al, 2008, p. 111).

Court records: A review of court records should be conducted to verify any conviction information. Also the Register of County Court Judgments could be checked to find out any pending County Court Judgments (CCJs) against the applicant.

Police character certificates: The applicant could be asked to submit a character certificate issued by police. Such certificates are an easy way to find out about the applicant’s character and convictions, if any.

Right to work documents: The eligibility of the applicant (if immigrants) to work legally could be found by scrutinizing documents such as passport and visa or travel documents. However, the employer must be well versed with the immigration regulations, classes of visas and the rights that come along those different classes of visa.

Example 13: Lidl, the supermarket chain, asks for right to work documents such as passport and visa document to assess the eligibility of the candidate to work legally and to check his/her immigration status (Source:


The significance of pre-employment background investigations are not hidden and are very well known to employers. As mentioned earlier, 96 % of employers were found to be conducting pre-employment investigations in a survey conducted in the year 2005 (Schramm, 2005, p. 128).

However, employers must be very careful while conducting such investigations as they are many legal issues that need to be taken into consideration. Failing to follow the legal guidelines could lead to ‘lawsuits stemming from charges of privacy or defamation of character’ (Arthur, 2005a, p. 270). Employers should also be ethical and should not cross moral boundaries while conducting an investigation on the background of an applicant. As discussed earlier, one way of doing so is to establish a written, sound, effective and efficient policy on pre-employment background investigation which takes all the legal, ethical and other sensitive issues into consideration (Nixon & Kerr, 2008, p. 8). This policy should be communicated within the organization and also to all the job applicants. Also only reputable external vendors must be selected if the pre-employment background investigation is partly or wholly outsourced.


Books and Journals:

  1. Torrington, D., Hall, L. and Taylor, S. (2002) Human resource management. UK, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 242.
  2. Bohlander, G.W. and Snell, S. (2009) Managing Human Resources, 15th ed, South Western, Mason, p. 263.
  3. Beardwell, J. and Claydon, T. (2007) Human resource management: a contemporary approach, 5th ed, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 207.
  4. Leopold, J., Harris, L. and Watson, T. (2005) The strategic managing of human resources, 1st ed, Pearson education, Harlow, pp. 170-71.
  5. Dessler, G. (2008) Human Resource Management, 11ed, Pearson education, New Jersey, pp. 130-254.
  6. Bogardus, A.M. (2004) Human Resources Jumpstart, Sybex, Almeda, p.79.
  7. Nieto, M.L. (2006) An Introduction To Human Resource Management- An Integrated Approach, 1st ed, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, p.144.
  8. Arthur, D. (2005a) Recruiting, interviewing, selecting & orienting new employees, 4th ed, Amacom, New York, pp. 253-70.
  9. Arthur, D. (2005b) Managing Human Resources in Small & Mid-Sized Companies, 2nd ed, Amacom, New York, p. 170.
  10. Pynes, J. (2004) Human resources management for public and nonprofit organizations, 2nd ed, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, p. 183.
  11. Noe, R.A., Hollenback, J.R., Gerhart, B. and Wright, P.M. (2004) Fundamentals of human resource management, McGraw-Hill, p.155.
  12. McKenna, E. and Beech, N. (2008) Human Resource Management: A Concise Analysis, 2nd ed, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 194.
  13. Armstrong, M. (2006) A handbook of human resource management practice, 10th ed, Kogan Page, London, p. 441.
  14. Kovacich, G.L. and Halibozek, E.P. (2006) Security metrics management: how to measure the costs and benefits of security, Elsevier, Oxford, p. 101.
  15. Halibozek, E.P., Jones, A. and Kovacich, G.L. (2008) The corporate security professional's handbook on terrorism, Elsevier, Oxford, p. 111.
  16. Nixon, W.B. and Kerr, K.M. (2008) Background screening and investigations: managing hiring risk from the HR and Security Perspective, Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 8-13.
  17. Schramm, J. (2005) “Background Checking”, HR Magazine Vol. 50, No.1 (January 2005), p. 128.
  18. Anderson, N. (2001) Handbook of Industrial, Work and Organizational Psychology: Organizational Psychology, 2nd ed. Sage, London, p. 345-68.
  19. Grote, R.C. (1996) The complete guide to performance appraisal, Amacom, New York, p. 351
  20. Sashkin, M. and Kiser, K.J. (1993) Putting total quality management to work: what TQM means, how to use it & how to sustain it over long run, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, p. 94.
  21. Lemak, D.J., Reed, R, & Satish, P.K. (1997), Commitment to total quality management: Is there a relationship with firm performance? Journal of Quality Management, (2)1, pp. 67-86.
  22. Human Resources Procedures for Employee Management, editors and printers (2008), Bizmanualz, p. 263.


  1. HR Executive, viewed 30 September, 2009,
  2. E-verifile, viewed 01 October, 2009, <>
  3. E-verifile, viewed 01 October, 2009, <>
  4. The Independent Newspaper, viewed 03 October, 2009, <>
  5. AP Screen, viewed 03 October, 2009, <>
  6. Glass door, viewed 19 October, 2009, <>
  7. Lidl, viewed 19 October 2009, <>.