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Careers Advice

The things a new employer might check

Background screening is a vital part of the recruitment process for many organisations. Steering your way through the various types of potential investigations can be bewildering so here’s a simple guide to help you understand the different pre-employment checks.

Reference checks

Reference checks are one of the most effective ways to ensure organisations are hiring the best person for the role. Most employment offers are subject to satisfactory references.

It is a common misconception that it is illegal to provide a bad reference in the UK. An employer can include reasonable details regarding workers’ performance and if they were dismissed. All references given must be completely accurate and employers who give an unfair or misleading reference can be taken to court for damages. An old employer is also permitted to refuse to provide a reference or just give brief details such as job title, salary and employment dates.

Once you start with a new employer you can ask to see a copy of a reference. You are not allowed to ask your previous employer though.

Right to Work checks

All employers have a legal obligation to carry out checks to ensure that an employee has a right to work in the UK. This must be applied to all workers to avoid discrimination claims, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic origin. It’s important not to assume that someone has the right to work.

Organisations can be fined up to £20,000 if they cannot show evidence that they checked an employee’s right to work in the UK. Most employers will ask to see your passport to satisfy this requirement.

Social media screening

It is normal practice for savvy employers to investigate potential employee’s social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for any posts reflecting behaviour which could be viewed as anti-social, illegal or violent. This is important not only for potential company fit but also to head off any potential issues in the future.

Companies can have legal ramifications if they rescind an offer and have got their facts wrong but in reality, the applicant needs to be able to prove this which in most cases would be difficult because the checks were covert.

Credit checks

These are especially common in the financial sector. They should also be proportionate to the position so a credit check would be necessary for a Finance Director role for example, but not in a role that without any financial responsibilities. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) recommends that credit checks are only carried out when there is no less intrusive alternative.

Qualifications & training verification

Some organisations like to check an applicant’s university degree, technical training or other education to get an accurate picture of a potential new starter’s knowledge and skills. Employers can use online resources such as successful candidate registers and university's websites to check the veracity of qualifications.

DVLA checks

Organisations with employees who drive for business purposes should carry out this check to safeguard from the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. The company would also look out for discrepancies such as drunk driving or excessive speeding.

Criminal record checks

Employees can request a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check for someone applying for a role. As with credit checks, any criminal record checks carried out by employers must be proportionate and relevant to the role in question and comply with the Police Act 1997 and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974. Certain roles are eligible for a more detailed check, for example when working with large amounts of personal data or in care roles.

Unless a business is eligible to check someone’s spent criminal record for a job, it’s against the law to refuse to employ them because of spent convictions.

Health checks

Hiring organisations can only ask successful candidates for a health check before hiring them if it’s a legal requirement (such as an eye test for commercial vehicle drivers) or if the job requires it (i.e. as an insurance criteria for cycle couriers).

Information regarding any health checks should be in your offer letter and written consent will need to be given before asking for a report from a candidate’s doctor. Candidates can demand to see the report and ask for it to be changed or withheld from the company.

Businesses must make sure checks do not discriminate (for example by targeting them at certain age groups only) or discourage people from applying for the job. Companies can be prosecuted if they discriminate against a candidate because of a disability that does not stop them from doing the job.

Pre-employment checks are a useful part of the recruitment process as long as they are completed properly and fairly. If you are unhappy with the results of any checks, it's best to seek professional advice regarding any recourse available.

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