If you are running one of the many companies which is starting to delve deeper into the background of people applying for positions, should you have a written policy on it? Most HR organisations agree that background screening is a positive step which companies can take to minimise the risk of employing someone who is at best unsuitable for the position, and at worst, a risk to colleagues or the company’s finances. But it’s important to have a written policy to make sure that any screening is done fairly and ensures that the company is not discriminating against any applicants based on race, sex, or other protected characteristics.

Purpose and Scope

The first thing your screening policy should contain is a statement on purpose and scope. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it’s merely a statement about why you are carrying out background screening, and what you will be looking at during your vetting process.

Organisational Responsibility

This section of the policy should detail who is responsible for carrying out the screening. Many organisations choose to use an external company to do this work for them, so it’s important to let staff know if this is what you intend to do. If you are screening in house, it’s best practice to name an individual, or at least a position such as HR Director, as the person with overall control of the process.

Legal Parameters

The policy should also mention that some background checks have to be completed for legal reasons. In the UK this includes a Right to Work check to confirm someone’s nationality and eligibility to work in the UK. Other positions, usually in healthcare or working with children, may need a disclosure, or criminal records check. The policy should contain a statement about clearly stating which positions require a criminal record check in vacancy notices.

Detail the Process

A good policy should also go into a bit of detail about how screening will be done. This should lay out which checks will be carried out, whether screening will be done once at recruitment or repeated at a certain interval, which positions are eligible for screening, and what criteria could lead to someone being rejected after an adverse screening result.

Avoiding Discrimination

Once you’ve written your policy on employment screening – and you can download a template to customise if you don’t want to start from scratch – the next step is to make sure that everyone involved in the process is aware of the policy and what is contained within it. Any policy on screening must be applied across the board, whoever the person is applying for the position. Obviously, deciding just to screen men, or people living in a certain postcode, could lead to accusations of discrimination. But it would also be unfair to not follow the process for someone known to the employer, or who has been referred by an employment agency. Keep all paperwork relating to screening and background checking so you can justify your decisions.