As the economy emerges from the pandemic, hiring has been on the rebound, and with it, employment background screening. According to the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), background checks have become nearly universal, with 94 percent of employers conducting some kind of background screening. For most candidates, the background check is a routine step on the road to employment, often leading to a positive result and eventual hire.
However, in other situations, a background check reveals criminal, educational, or employment information that causes the hiring process to stall. And it’s not always as serious as discovering felony convictions, an invalid medical license, or a falsified employment history. Instead, a background check could simply yield inaccurate or incomplete information. Through no fault of the candidate, employer, or background check company, the results of a background check can contain incorrect information and possibly put a candidate’s hire at risk.
Common forms of inaccurate background check information
Contrary to what some might believe, there is no central database containing all criminal history or other background information. Therefore, background screening companies must search a variety of databases and public record sources, some of which may yield erroneous information.
Here are just a few examples of how incorrect information can appear on a candidate’s background check report:
- Criminal history information from cases that were expunged or sealed, that was not properly updated and removed from public view by the court.
- Incorrect graduation status from education sources. This can occur most commonly with older, non-electronic records.
- Incorrect or incomplete dates of employment or position from employment sources. An employer may have provided incomplete information due to changes in payroll systems, mergers and acquisitions, and breaks in employment.
What candidates can do about erroneous background check results
Going through the background check process may be the first time a candidate becomes aware of erroneously reported background information. If the information has the potential to negatively affect the candidate’s job prospects, the employer is legally obliged by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to notify the candidate of the right to dispute the background check results. In addition to a copy of the original background check report, the employer must also give the candidate a “pre-adverse action” letter confirming the option to dispute the results and a notice explaining their rights under the FCRA. Certain states have additional and specific requirements for adverse action, as well.
Candidates also have a right to dispute inaccuracies on their reports and can submit any new or corrected criminal, education, or employment information for subsequent review by their prospective employer and the background check company. For example, a candidate can submit updated criminal history information from a court, a copy of school records for education, or a W-2 for employment. From there, the background screening company will review and verify the information and correct the background check report when necessary.
How employers should approach background check inaccuracies
In addition to providing FCRA-required documents to candidates, employers should also support candidates through the dispute process before taking any action, such as rescinding a job offer. Not doing so could result in a lawsuit or a claim of FCRA rights violation by the candidate. Even if the inaccuracy doesn’t affect the employment of the candidate, the background check company should be contacted to facilitate a reinvestigation to correct the information with the reporting source, so a similar error does not occur in the future.
Employers should take the following specific actions:
- Include in your adverse action policy a guide for the actions HR and others will take when a candidate disputes background check results, including notifying the background check company of the dispute.
- Keep the position open while waiting for a candidate to gather and present new background information; many companies wait at least five days.
- Carefully consider all new information provided by the candidate, reviewing it with legal counsel and the background check company before making decisions about the candidate’s employment eligibility.
Managing background check disputes is likely to run smoother with the help of a reliable background screening company. A reputable background screening provider helps employers maintain compliance and consistency by:
- Following FCRA requirements for managing background check disputes
- Monitoring the dispute rate (how often candidates dispute background check data)
- Conducting thorough and timely investigations of new information presented by candidates, and if necessary, provides corrected background check reports.
Employers should also keep in mind that not all instances of background check report inaccuracies are due to erroneous information. Sometimes the culprit is incomplete data collection at the start of the background check process, for instance, a candidate may not properly complete their application. Although it isn’t necessarily an inaccuracy, a previous employer may not have a record of the candidate if they were employed through a temporary agency, contract work, or a work-study program. In those instances, an additional employment verification may be necessary.
Despite the appropriate actions of candidates, employers, and background screening companies, background check inaccuracies can still occur. The key to success is knowing what to do when a background check report contains incorrect information. By following legal requirements and understanding candidates’ rights, both employers and candidates can do their part to keep the background screening process fair and efficient.