Employee background checks: everything you need to know

Posted on June 24, 2019
Posted by Claire Woolf

So you’ve carried out a recruitment exercise and you’ve finally decided who you want to hire, but what next? Before you rush to make an offer of employment, you should consider what background checks you’ll need to run on your prospective employee. You should then make any job offer conditional on the results from these checks being satisfactory in your own opinion.

Employee background checks

To help you make sure a candidate really is the right person for the job, you should consider carrying out the following employee background checks:

Right to work checks

It’s a criminal offence to employ someone who doesn’t have the right to work in the UK. To avoid fines (or even prison time!) make sure you check a prospective employee’s right to work. In many cases, you’ll be able to do this online using the Government’s Employer Checking Service . Otherwise, you’ll need to manually check some of the applicant’s original documents (eg passports or national identity cards). Make sure you have your prospective employee’s consent before you carry out these checks.

Criminal record checks

For certain UK roles you’ll need to check whether your job applicant has a criminal record (eg if they’ll be working in some roles with children or vulnerable adults). In these cases, you can request a Disclosure and Barring Service check. There are strict data protection obligations to bear in mind if you’ll be handling information about individuals’ criminal records.

Reference checks

You’re likely to want to check job applicants’ references before taking them on and should make receipt of satisfactory references a condition of the job offer. It’s good practice to wait until after you have finished your recruitment process to check them (to avoid being influenced by somebody else’s views). You should obtain the applicant’s permission before contacting referees.

Qualification checks

If your job spec requires applicants to have particular qualifications, you might want to ask them to provide you with evidence (eg by asking to see academic or professional certificates). Make sure applicants know that you’ll be carrying out these checks before you do so.

Credit checks

You’re not legally prevented from carrying out credit checks, but they’re particularly intrusive so consider carefully whether you should. Only carry out these checks if it’s absolutely necessary for the role that you know an applicant’s credit history. Make sure you comply with your data protection obligations when doing so.

Health checks

Asking questions about health conditions during your selection process is only allowed in very limited circumstances, but sometimes you may need to carry out health screening post-offer. If this is the case, you must make it clear to applicants very early on in your recruitment process that health checks will be necessary if the applicant is offered the job. Any health checks you do carry out must be necessary for and justified by the job role (eg the role might be physically demanding). You’re under very strict data protection obligations when you process health information, and you must ensure that these are complied with at all times.

Employment restrictions

It’s important to check that prospective employees don’t have any restrictions from previous employers about what they can and can’t do (eg they might be prevented from working for competitors for a certain amount of time). If you hire someone and they do have restrictions, you could get sued by their previous employer. You can ask the individual to confirm as part of the job offer that they’re free from restrictions, and if you’re still not sure you can ask to see their previous employment contract.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram… social media checks?

Be very careful about reviewing job applicants’ social media and other online profiles when you’re recruiting. It’s unlikely to be justified if an account is for private rather than business purposes (so LinkedIn might be ok, but it’s unlikely that Instagram would be). Even if their profiles are open to the public, you still need a lawful basis for looking at them and you must comply with your data protection obligations at all times. Make sure any staff involved in your recruitment exercise know what your policy is on checking social media and never require applicants to provide you with access to their profiles.

For further guidance about all of these employee background checks and your data protection obligations, see our content on carrying out a Recruitment process and Data protection during recruitment.

The content in this article is up to date at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.