Jun 21, 2016 07:46 AM EDT

Employee Background Checks: What Employers Can, Can’t Do

By Jane Reed

Employee background checks are not unusual in any company. Big, medium or small enterprises take precautions when it comes to the safety of the workplace. But sometimes, employers tend to forget that there are certain things to remember when conducting background checks.

According to Market Watch, employers can learn a lot about a job applicant outside of an interview, but they are not masters of the universe. They should exercise that power within the boundaries of the law. While there is no sure way to find out if a potential employee can be problematic, taking the time to conduct background checks during any job application is one way to create a safe work place.

Marsha Hernandez, managing director at Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, says "Background checks cannot predict the future."

That is the case but Hernandez added that background checks can still give information to make the best possible choice based on the information that is available. Companies can check an applicant's work history, education, criminal record and credit history, either themselves or through a third party agency. However, if an employment decision is based off this data, employers are obligated to inform the applicant and give them an opportunity to dispute the information. These are all under federal rules.

Applicants also need to know that when applying for a job, employers cannot check an applicant's medical records during the hiring process or base employment decisions off race, national origin, sex, religion or genetic information. These are illegal acts. But employers can conduct drug tests when the need arises.

State regulations limit the type and amount of information employers can collect during the hiring process. In terms of criminal backgrounds, some states only allow screenings to go back seven years, while in others, only convictions can be reported, Hernandez says. Social media is also a source of information. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If an applicant's social media is the cause of their rejection, it is possible for them to file a job discrimination complaint because of the personal information that could be gathered from their profile.

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