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Why are background checks important for employees

For many years, perhaps even decades, conducting a background check on job candidates has been the standard. But, in recent years, there's been a lot of discussion surrounding whether background checks are necessary, or even ethical.

Are background checks discriminatory?

Many people argue that performing checks on a potential employee's history, such as criminal record checks and credit checks, unfairly discriminates against people who have either committed minor offenses or been victims of poverty. For example, if an applicant has a DUI (driving under the influence) charge or conviction against their name, it usually automatically bars them from being accepted for a role, even if they're not required to drive for the role itself, or the offense was committed long ago. As HR leader Navigate explains, in terms of credit checks, many applicants fail the screening process because simply put, they're poor and their credit score or history is bad due to no fault of their own.

Consequently, a number of organizations and companies are gravitating towards keeping an open mind about an employee's background when considering them for a role. Some companies are lowering their background check threshold while others are doing away with it completely. According to a survey conducted in 2019, 37% of employers have relaxed their screening requirements, and for good reason.

The cons of background checks

  • It's time-consuming: Contacting banks for credit scores or going digging through legal archives to locate criminal records potentially wastes valuable time that could be spent elsewhere in the organization more constructively.
  • It eliminates qualified candidates: When employers choose to automatically disqualify would-be employees based on their conviction or credit history, they might lose out on hiring highly qualified, well-suited people.
  • It tarnishes an organization's reputation: When companies decide not to hire someone based solely on their criminal, credit or medical records, it's often tantamount to discrimination based on race, class or disability. Understandably, when the general public hears this is happening, the organization in question often earns a poor reception.

The pros of relaxing screening activities

  • It speeds up the recruitment process: By choosing to lower the disqualifying criteria or choosing not to conduct background checks altogether, human resources and recruitment teams free up time they could use to increase productivity elsewhere in the business.
  • It widens the talent pool: When employers choose not to disqualify candidates based on arrest or conviction records, or they're more selective with which offenses and sentences disqualify candidates, they have more candidates to choose from.
  • It improves an organization's image: Today, people can find almost any information about any company. In a world that's becoming more progressive and aware of systemic discrimination, by adhering to fair and equal opportunity hiring practices, organizations can improve how they are perceived by the public.

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