WHEN TO DO BACKGROUND CHECKS: BEFORE OR AFTER JOB OFFER?
After more than 30 years in the reference checking and background screening business, I am still amazed at how many employers make job offers to candidates for employment before checking references or doing a thorough background check. What typically happens is the employer will make the job offer contingent upon the successful completion of a reference check or a background check.
What’s the problem with doing it that way? Well, if something does turn up in the screening process that makes the candidate unacceptable to the employer, the offer of employment ordinarily has to be withdrawn and the unsuccessful candidate will immediately know exactly why! A savvy candidate will, as he or she has a right to do, demand to see whatever information was collected and challenge any of it he or she believes is false, in the hope that an error has been made.
Without realizing it, the employer will also have opened himself to a possible civil suit based on wrongful denial of employment – if the information collected turns out to be false. The only thing the employer has going for him in a situation like that is the fact that the burden of proof is on the candidate to demonstrate that the information collected about him was false. Put another way, there is no burden on the employer to prove that the information is true.
But why go through all that, not to mention the expense associated with being sued by the unsuccessful candidate? It makes far more sense to do the reference and background checking before a job offer is ever made. If no job offer is made, there’s nothing that has to be withdrawn and no one has to be terminated should something turn up that would cause the candidate to be dropped from further consideration for the job.
It should be kept in mind that the unsuccessful candidate, regardless of whether a job offer was made or not, has a right under the provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act to see any information that was collected about him and to dispute it if he believes it is false. The key, from the employer’s standpoint, however, is to make sure that the information collected is accurate. As a practical matter, most unsuccessful applicants normally will not demand to see a reference report or background check the employer collected. But, if they do, it’s far better for the employer to be in the position of not having offered the candidate a job based on the condition of a satisfactory reference and/or background check.
The employer is always on solid ground if any information collected about the candidate is true; but, by doing the reference checks and background checks prior to making a job offer, the employer is further protecting himself from incurring the costs of defending the decision not to hire the candidate, rather than defending a decision to terminate that candidate based on information that could have been available prior to making that fateful job offer.