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Is it legal for a company to do a background check on me during the hiring process?

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Q:

Is it legal for a company to do a background check on me during the hiring process?

A:

When a business is conducting research on whether or not they want to hire a person to fill a position within their company, they can legally perform a credit or criminal background check. These businesses, however, are regulated on how they perform these checks and what they can do with the information that they acquire.

Background Checks Must Be Relevant to Position

Anyone conducting a background check for an employment position must make sure that the check is relevant. Businesses cannot conduct a background check for no apparent reason. For instance, it would be a wise choice for a business to conduct a background and credit check for someone that they are about to hire as a bank teller. Background information cannot be used in any way that would allow the employer to discriminate against a specific group of people. All information gathered in a background check must be used in the same manner against every candidate to ensure that discrimination does not occur.

Regarding Adverse Action Requirements

If the information that is gathered about a potential employee is the specific reason that a job is not offered, the employer is required by federal law to provide the candidate with this information. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers must provide these candidates with the name and contact information of the consumer reporting bureau that provided the company with the information used to make this decision. Consumers have the right to review this information and have any errors corrected.

Why Background Checks Are Gaining Popularity

Many people are curious as to why background checks have become increasingly popular. Many jobs that do not seem to require this type of research are now requiring a background check. Here are three reasons for this increase:

  1. Terrorism – With the increased risk associated with terrorism, many companies are conducting background checks to ensure that the employees they are considering do not have links with terrorism.
  2. Workplace Violence – Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees. This includes making sure that other employees are not a threat or danger to those who work for the company.
  3. Job Competition – Many people over-inflate their resumes when applying for a job because there is a lot of competition for positions. Many employers want to verify the information found on the resumes to see if the candidate is being honest.

Medical Background Checks: What's Allowed

It is against the law, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, for employers to perform a medical background check on a potential employee. Employers may request a physical exam of employees to determine if they are capable of certain job duties such as lifting a specific amount of weight or to screen them for drug use. Although the physical exam is allowed in this case, employers have no authority to request or obtain any additional medical information about an employee or potential employee.

Other Prohibited Background Check Practices

Additionally, background checks can't be used to screen out specific people for a job unless that screening is applied to all people. Employers, for instance, cannot use background check information as a reason to not hire anyone over 40 years old. They cannot eliminate someone that is of a specific heritage simply because they do not wish to hire people of that ethnicity. All information must be used in the same manner for every applicant regardless of race, color, creed, religious belief, sexual orientation or age.

If You Suspect Discrimination in the Hiring Practice

If you feel that you have been discriminated against during the job application program, you have the right to take legal action against the business. Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, parts of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the American’s with Disabilities Act, you have specific legal rights as a consumer for protection from discrimination. In addition, Section VII of the Civil Rights Act provides you with protection from employers that violate these laws. If you believe that you have been discriminated against during the hiring process, speak with an attorney about protecting your rights.

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