What Should You Know about the Process (and Legality) of Prescreening Your Employees?

23 February 2016
 Categories: , Articles

If you've recently made the decision to expand your small business and hire non-family members as employees, you may be wondering where to begin. While posting "help wanted" ads in your local newspaper and online and contacting a temp agency may give you a large pool of prospective employees, sorting through and picking out the few who will help bring your business to the next level of success can be tricky. One way many employers have chosen to weed out potential problem employees is by putting them through a battery of tests, including running their credit report, conducting a criminal background check, or requiring them to take some simple ethics, math, or problem-solving tests. What testing options should you consider when searching for employees? Read on to learn more about the logistics and legality of pre-employment screening.

What types of pre-employment tests should you administer before making an offer of employment? 

The types of tests (and extent of investigation) you'll need to undertake largely depend on your industry and the positions for which you're hiring. For example, if you're looking for someone to handle bookkeeping or run the cash register, you may want to order both a criminal background and credit check for potential applicants to ensure they don't have any previous criminal convictions for fraud-related crimes or are not carrying high levels of debt that could make them more likely to shoplift or embezzle. In other cases, you may want employees to take a short math or English test to ensure they have the proper knowledge to perform the clerical or administrative duties required of them. 

Many of the most common screening tools (particularly the report-running kind) can be routed through an employment agency, relieving you of the responsibility of tracking down this data yourself. You'll simply need to provide this agency with some information on the applicants you're considering, including their date of birth, Social Security Number (SSN), and other personally identifying information. In exchange for this information and a small fee, these agencies will provide you with a written report that lets you know whether your prospective employee has any potential red flags that may lead you to choose a different candidate. 

In other cases, you may be able to purchase prewritten employee screening tests from a testing company, saving you the trouble of designing your own. These tests can often be made industry-specific, helping you evaluate your potential employees on information they'll be using on a daily basis. 

Is prescreening your employees by running a criminal background check or credit check legal?

In general, requiring your potential employees to submit to a drug screen, credit check, or criminal background check is completely legal. However, if these types of tools are intentionally used to eliminate a protected demographic from consideration (like age, sex, color, ethnicity, or religion), they may violate federal anti-discrimination laws. You'll need to carefully consider the demographics of individuals applying for jobs with your business to ensure that the screening tools you're planning to use won't inadvertently subject you to an expensive employment lawsuit by eliminating from consideration all the individuals who fit a specific protected criteria.

In other situations, your use of a pre-employment screening tool could land you in hot water if a potential employee alleges that these screening tools are unnecessary for the positions being filled. For example, using a complex math test for an entry-level position that requires no money handling or other math skills could be deemed discriminatory if it operates to exclude most of the individuals in a protected class. This is another reason why it's ideal to go through an employment agency for these types of tests, as these agencies are well versed in anti-discrimination laws and can help tailor your screening tools accordingly. Contact a representative from a company like PeopleFacts for further information.