5 Alarming Background Check Items That Go Unnoticed

A new employee is hired and onboarded—months into their employment, it’s revealed that they have some unsettling, if not outright alarming, prior activity. How can this be, you wonder: you performed a background check before hiring them and everything appeared fine. 

The problem is that standard background checks only go so far—and they often fail to catch behaviors that were not “officially” recorded or are outside the reach of standard databases.

What can happen when a background check fails to shine a light on a new hire’s undesirable activity or tendencies? It can create a workplace that’s potentially dangerous for your customers and employees and compromise your company’s values. When hiring new employees, you always want to make sure you are bringing on the best—the best talent that is also the best match for company culture. 

Nowadays, virtually every employer invests in a background check solution. Strict federal guidelines mandate that candidates must be informed that they are having a background check performed and various state laws determine how far back an employee can be checked (the standard is 7 years). These pre-employment screenings can give a good view of many major points to consider but might not be able to reveal everything you want to know about a candidate.

Here are five background items that often go undetected with standard background checks.

  1. Dismissed cases
    A case that goes to court, but is either ultimately dismissed or the defendant is not convicted, may not end up appearing on all background checks. Whether this should impact your hiring decision may depend on the severity or type of activity. A standard criminal background check will reveal criminal convictions, but often that is where it ends. (Note, in many states, ban-the-box legislation makes  it unlawful to ask applicants if they have any criminal convictions, making conviction alone insufficient reason not to hire a prospect). However, repeated civil and/or criminal justice activities—conviction or not—could be a red flag. 
  2. International warrants
    Local warrants will always show up on an employee’s background check—including bench, criminal, and civil warrants—but It’s often limited to domestic cases. Warrants issued by international territories may go undiscovered. As an employer, you want to know if there is any activity that would give you pause—no matter where in the world it took place. 
  3. Harassment claims
    Harassment—which includes workplace sexual harassment, gender orientation harassment, and race-related harassment—can also be hard to turn up using standard background check methods. In many of these cases, the dispute is settled internally within an HR department or between lawyers—it’s rare that a police or court report is filed.
    Employers are encouraged to use personal and professional references to verify the character of a candidate. But be warned—the world is just now learning about the prevalence of settlements and their attendant nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), and how they were used to hide bad behavior. Reference checks can help alert you to these situations as they come up, but you might have to pose questions carefully so as to not break your NDA and still get the information you seek.
  4. Theft
    When an employee is caught stealing from their employer, it’s almost always the reason for immediate termination. They are asked to return what they have stolen, or their pay is docked in compensation—and only occasionally are the police called. Often though, the police do not get involved and the matter is completely settled between employer and employee, in which case this event wouldn’t show up on even the strictest of background checks.
  5. Drug use
    Drug use only shows up on a background check if the user is caught. But what about the multitude who aren’t? Administering employee drug tests, which can be accomplished by a variety of third-party services, can deduce if any employee has recently used or abused substances.
    When you hire with a more comprehensive picture of an employee’s character and behavior, your company reinforces firm wide values, fosters productive corporate culture, and mitigates potential risks. 

Worried your company’s background checks aren’t going far enough? We’re here to help! Harver’s automated reference checking tool delivers an average of 6 reference responses per candidate. That’s a significant amount of feedback that tends to be more candid than anything gathered over the phone. Use this information to gain a complete picture of your candidates in question. Schedule a personal walkthrough of Harver Reference today!

Harver Team

Harver Team

Updated on:
August 1, 2023

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