The employment background check is often one of the last things done before hiring a person. In fact often employers make an offer contingent on passing a background check. The decision is up to you.
Disclaimer: As with all matters that pertain to legal issues you should always seek legal counsel when considering the ramifications and liabilities of having employees with criminal records or anything related to liabilities you may be exposing you or your business to. I'm not a lawyer and I don't pretend to be giving legal advice. Check with your own lawyer who knows your business and your local laws.
That said, I am presenting this information so that when you do have a conversation with your legal counsel, you have a starting point for the conversation and a list of some of the issues to consider.
There are 2 things you can do to up front starting with the screening process to make sure you are hiring an honest person and even get a sense of whether there is anything to be concerned about going forward.
1) As part of the screening, let the candidate know up front that there will be an employment background check and what will be included in that check.
2) When you get to the interview section, have the person fill out an employment application complete with dates of employment, education and ask if the person if they meet your hiring criteria with respect to criminal backgrounds.
Be sure there is a statement in your application along the lines that the candidate understand that falsification of information in the application is ground for termination. Point it out and make sure they know what they are signing. It not only protects you but the extra emphasis shows the candidate you take this matter seriously.
Note: There are limits on what is legal to ask a candidate about their criminal background. Consult an employment lawyer to understand what can be asked as part of the hiring process in your state or locality.
You will find that most people will fess up if you handle it with dignity and sincerity. Just tell them there will be an employment background check. Then let them know, before both you and the candidate spend time and energy in an interview process, is there anything you should know in this regard. More times than not, if there is something they will tell you.
There are numerous things that can be legally checked. Some you can do on your own some you need to pay a company to do them for you. I highly recommend you find a reputable company and pay for this service. The reason is that an employment background check company will be able to give some guidance as to what is legal and what is not legal to know as part of a background check. Plus these days with online databases it is quite cheap.
Here are some of the records available through employment background check companies;
This is just a partial list but it covers most of what an employer might want to know. You will need the written permission of the candidate to do these record checks and I would suggest that you always encourage the candidate to ask for copies of the records.
There are some free public records available online. Use them at your own peril. I say this because employers and business have legal responsibilities when it comes to accessing information about candidates. You must be very careful about how you handle these records, what you do with the information etc. You really really really need to talk with a lawyer if you are going down this road.
Once you have talked with a lawyer and you are convinced that you understand and accept the liabilities there is data available. For example, the superior court records for Orange County, CA are available online. If you know a persons name you can locate if they have been in the court system.
Everything from minor traffic infractions as well as felony convictions is included. As you might guess, there are pitfalls such as;
1) There are disclaimers saying among other things, that the records can not be guaranteed accurate.
2) If the person has a fairly common name, you may not be able to narrow down your search.
3) The person may live and work in Orange County but gotten in trouble in a neighboring county like San Diego or Riverside County.
For these reasons and more, I highly recommend that you pay for a service. These days you can get a lot of information for less than $100 from highly reputable firms.