Background checks should be a consistent part of your business’ search for new employees. Although good interviews and references are valuable, they don’t always tell the full story. Given how simple it has become to run background checks, it’s easy to make sure your potential employees are who they claim to be and someone you can trust.

Limit Your Liability

While they're on the clock, you are liable for the actions and behaviors of your employees. If someone does something unlawful, inappropriate or negligent, you could face serious legal consequences. These consequence will only compound if it turns out that you didn't screen thoroughly when hiring.

Particularly if your business provides personal services, such as a daycare or delivery, you are at risk if one of your employees does something to harm a client. In fact, you face a high probability of losing a lawsuit if it turns out that your employee has been involved in a similar situation in the past and you failed to run a background check.

There are many horror stories, an example of which is highlighted by the Brezenski v. World Truck Transfer Inc. case.

The management of World Truck Transfer Inc. were desperate for a delivery driver and did not check the background of Rodney Crew. Along his route, Crew lost control of his vehicle and wound up in the front yard of Michael McMahon’s house. Crew then shot and killed McMahon and shot Michael Brezenski in the chest as he fled the scene. World Truck Transfer was found to be “negligent for the failure to exercise reasonable care in determining an employee's propensity for violence in an employment situation where the violence would harm a third person.”

Naturally, a lawsuit—even if the other side is unsuccessful—has significant costs and can set a company’s plans back by years or even push it to the brink of extinction.

Only Background Check Items Relevant to the Job

Background checks can become expensive when employers run full screenings on potential hires instead of just relevant areas. The law also frowns on over-checking. For example, checking the driving record of an employee who doesn’t drive as part of his/her duties pushes the limits of legality. However, a criminal background check is always a good idea, because having a known felon on staff is a liability in any situation.

Keep your background checks pertinent and sensible. The law requires employers to conduct due diligence while, at the same time, respecting an employee’s right to privacy.

Only conduct credit checks for employees who will work in a position of fiduciary responsibility, such as a financial manager or anyone who handles money. Someone with a debt problem may be tempted to embezzle or steal. Moreover, if someone has a problem with bankruptcy, you might want to think twice about allowing him or her to manage the finances of your business.

If you are hiring for a high-level position in your organization, then a more exhaustive search is appropriate. However, if it’s for an entry-level position, a simple criminal background check may suffice.

What Are the Best Ways to Perform a Background Check?

If you only have to perform one background check every now and then, it’s fairly simple to do by yourself with a little bit of research. Most state and local jurisdictions require you to submit a written request to a law enforcement agency in order to run a criminal background check.

On the other hand, if you have a number of background checks to perform, consider a professional background-research service. A few major, reliable providers include Kroll, CrimCheck, EmployeeScreen and EasyBackgrounds.

There are also legal advantages of using a background checking service. Professionals are not just efficient; they ensure legal compliance. They also become legally liable for mistakes and privacy invasions instead of the business owner—so long as there’s a valid employee-signed authorization form.

You can also do some of your own research using the websites of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which verifies a person’s right to work, or the Federal Bureau of Prisons. No matter what, contact personal and business references yourself and get as much relevant information as possible.

One last note: federal and state laws govern your ability to inquire into certain legal, person and financial records. Without written consent, you may be unable to undertake certain searches or face civil and criminal sanctions for illegal invasion of privacy.