What’s The Right Way To Use A Criminal Background Check

What’s The Right Way To Use A Criminal Background Check

Estimates are that roughly one third of all adult Americans have some kind of criminal history that could show up in a background check. With that statistic in mind, it’s likely that you’ll encounter an applicant who’s experienced a brush with the law. While you might feel that knowing a potential employee’s criminal history is important, it’s also important to know that considering an employee’s criminal background comes with significant legal risk. Here are tips to help you when discussing criminal pre-employment background screen information:

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When is the right time to talk about criminal history?

  • Don’t ask about criminal history on the application. The days are gone when asking an applicant to check a box if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime is acceptable. Many states actually have “ban the box” laws prohibiting this type of question that gives the impression of disqualifying an applicant before understanding if the behavior is relevant to the position.
  • Do ask during the interview. This gives the applicant a chance to provide context and evidence of rehabilitation.
  • Run a criminal background check, international and domestic, after you’ve made the offer and if your company hiring policy includes background checks. And don’t pick and choose who you screen; if you screen one, you need to screen all.


The wisest and fairest policy for evaluating an applicant’s criminal record is in the context of the position. Does the past behavior have a potential impact on the job in question? Simply broadly disqualifying all candidates with a criminal history is not a good policy and might mean losing valuable talent. Instead, consider the whole package. Is the crime relevant? (DUI convictions disqualify drivers and theft convictions disqualify stock workers, but it might not matter if your new sales rep has a history of either of these.) How far distant is the offense? What has the individual done to move on from past mistakes? Adding value to the team is ultimately the most important consideration, so don’t let great people slip away.


While careful timing and giving all a fair chance are good policies, the law requires more attention to the details of compliance. Your organization must follow the two-step adverse action process outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) before taking any negative action based on a criminal background check. Your professional background screening partner will provide insight and tools to help you stay on the right side of the law.

Safeguarding your business is important, but so is fairness. Timing, context, and compliance will help you do both.

Steffy Alen

Steffy Alen