Basics of Job Applications, Interviewing & Background Checks

hand pointing to resume
June 6, 2017

Here are some general tips to help you understand some of the basics about job applications, interviewing, and background checks. The goal is to hire the best people and to minimize risks. By no means does the following cover everything you need to know, but this will get you thinking and possibly making some necessary adjustments.

1.  Review your job applications, both paper and online. They should mirror each other. If you reviewed job applications from 100 employers it is likely that at least half of them would contain unlawful questions and statements that a consumer can use against them.

  • For instance, the portion of the job application that lists educational accomplishments often asks for a ‘date of graduation.’ You can’t ask for this on an application since it would allow you to most likely determine the applicant’s age. That is not permitted.
  • Also, a simple and seemingly innocent question about clubs, hobbies, and outside activities is prohibited since you could learn about activities and memberships that have nothing to do with the job applied for.
  • And certainly, you cannot ask about on-the-job injuries or missed work days. To take it to an extreme, if an applicant is in a wheelchair and is obviously missing both legs, you cannot ask what happened. What you think is innocent and cordial curiosity can be turned into a damaging lawsuit overnight.

2. If you operate multiple sites, it is absolutely essential that your employees involved with hiring and interviewing are all on the same page. This means they should follow prescribed application review and interviewing processes. The way you get into trouble is when an applicant is treated differently when he/she applies for a job at several locations. Remember, today’s consumer is informed better than ever, and could be looking for a way to make your life miserable by taking advantage of procedural inconsistencies.

3. Always do a background check on any category of employee, part-time/fulltime, temporary/permanent. Don’t let anyone slip by, even if you have known the person forever. That in itself, can cause a problem for you.

  • You can’t hire a commercial driver without complying with the D.O.T. FMCSRs for certain types of investigations, such as a check of the driving record and review of previous drug/alcohol testing. But a receptionist who uses a personal vehicle on company time to run to the bank or pick up supplies can cause just as much damage to your business as an irresponsible and unsafe fuel truck driver. The receptionist is in an accident and an innocent person is harmed or even killed. It is learned your employee is driving with a license that has been suspended for two years. A judge and jury will not want to hear that you did not take the time and spend the little amount of money to check the person’s driving record before hiring.
  • A background check should always include some type of criminal history review. These days, database checks that provide instant information from thousands of courts, states, and agencies are cost-effective and often reveal troubling criminal information that occurred in parts of the country that the applicant never indicated on the application or resume.
  • Federal law says that you must provide the applicant with specific forms regarding background checks, and it also provides instructions and guidance regarding how you use the information in the background check report, especially if you are going to deny employment. Many of the nation’s largest and most prestigious employers – those you would think have the best HR people working for them – have lost huge lawsuits because one prohibited sentence was included in a document the applicant signed to authorize a background check.
  • Most background checks are completed very quickly, and you will have a report that proves you have taken steps to hire workers who will be safe within your business, with your clients, and throughout the community.

4. Finally, laws and regulations about employment can change overnight. Your legal counsel should be aware of any changes that impact your business so you can quickly make necessary changes to documents and procedures. The costs for legal advice and background checks are infinitely less than those associated with potentially business-killing class action lawsuits.

Your legal counsel is always the best source to ensure that your employment processes are legally compliant. For employers who operate multiple locations, within a single state or many, laws within states and counties may differ, and it is vital that your counsel understands this so necessary adjustments to documents can be made.

Contributed by Steven J. Austin of LABORCHEX.

Through the Michigan Chamber partnership with LABORCHEX, members get discounted pricing to employment background screening services. To learn more, please email Steven J. Austin or call him at 601-624-4321.