Running background checks can be very important for a number of reasons. They are used for vetting employees, making sure people that you meet on online dating sites are safe and keeping tabs on people in your neighborhood.
The history of background checks began around 100 years ago. The Madison Circuit Court ruled that companies can be liable for the conduct of their employees if they knew or should have known about potential risk factors. The same precedent probably holds with landlords finding new tenants and other types of organizations.
This actually set a precedent that many organizations need to start running background checks on employees, tenants and other stakeholders.
If you have never run a background check and public records search before, you may not know what to look for. Here are some guidelines that you should pay close attention to.
Taking a close look at the individual’s criminal record
Most background checks provide information on the subject’s criminal history. Depending on the nature of the background check, it may be tempting to immediately disqualify any person from consideration simply because they have been convicted of any crime at all.
Unfortunately, this is not always prudent. In some instances, it may not even be legal.
Some courts have sided with the EEOC when they ruled that denying employment to someone based on a minor conviction for a small drug offense may be grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. The reasoning for this is that laws regarding drug offenses tend to disproportionately harm minorities.
Even if the law doesn’t prohibit you from disqualifying someone based on a single conviction, it may be unwise to do so. One example may be if you are trying to rent out a room in your house. You may discover from a background check that a potential tenant has a shoplifting conviction from 20 years ago.
That offense is unlikely to indicate their risk as a tenant today. There are several things that you should keep in mind while looking at the criminal record section of somebody’s background report:
- How recent the offense was. A conviction for a crime a year ago is far more relevant than one that was committed a couple of decades ago during a college fraternity initiation.
- The severity of the offense. A conviction for a violent felony such as armed robbery or aggravated sexual assault will obviously be much more concerning than a misdemeanor conviction for loitering.
- How relevant the conviction is to the reason that you are conducting a background check. If you are running a background check for somebody that is looking for a job as a driver, then a DUI conviction will be a very serious red flag. If you are running a background check before deciding whether or not to hire somebody to flip hamburgers, then it probably won’t be nearly as big of a deal. If you are deciding whether not to rent a room in your own house to them, then it may or may not be a concern. You may want to know whether or not they have serious drinking problem or simply made a mistake one night. You’ll need to look at other factors in context, such as when they got the DUI, how long ago it was, the number of DUIs that they received and what steps they have taken since.
Analyzing the criminal record section of somebody’s background check can be difficult, because most of the decisions that you will make will be subjective. You simply need to consider the severity and relevancy of anything that you see.
Evaluating their financial information
Most background checks will provide information on the subject’s credit. In addition to listing their credit score, it will also provide information on any bankruptcies, liens and other financial concerns that you should know about.
Before looking at this information, you need to be aware of the limitations. Federal law usually prohibits employers from considering somebody’s credit score well deciding whether not to give them a job.
On the other hand, their credit score may be extremely relevant if you are a landlord and are deciding whether not to rent a room to them. You don’t want to worry about whether not they will be able to pay the rent every month.
As with anything, context is obviously going to matter.