Many organisations in the UK carry out pre-employment checks on prospective employees. Most recruiting managers ask for references from previous employers and may ask to see a passport or some other form of identity.
But there are a whole range of checks you could carry out – and some are a legal requirement. This article will help to explain what you should be checking (as a UK employer). It also looks at what you should avoid!
Why do you need to carry out pre-employment checks?
You have found your ideal candidate and made a conditional offer of employment. But you need to check out a couple of things before you can confirm the offer. Employing someone is a big investment and you will want to safeguard your business. Otherwise, recruiting that individual could have a negative impact. It could even prove to be a costly mistake.
But background screening can be complex. It is easy to cross the boundary and breach data protection laws. This article will give you a brief overview of what you should and should not be checking.
As with any contractual negotiation, you need to carry out due diligence. You want to ensure the candidate is not likely to bring the company into disrepute. You want to avoid them having a negative impact on colleagues or customers.
Additionally, employers need to comply with some legal requirements. This iwll depend on the type of business and work the individual will be doing. For instance, you may need to check whether an individual has a criminal record or a poor credit reference.
Legal checks you must do
If you are in the UK, you have the legal obligation as an employer to carry out checks to ensure that a potential employee has a right to work in the UK.
You must apply this to every potential employees, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic origin. It is important that you don’t assume someone has the right to work. If you neglect to do this, you could face a discrimination claim.
It is also important to keep records of these checks, with copies of the documents provided by individuals (such as passports). If asked, you must be able to prove you did the check. The fine for non-compliance is up to £20,000.
Pre-Employment Checks which depend on the specific job or industry
There are a number of other checks which you may need to do for the specific type of work or industry. This includes things such as criminal record checks, health checks, credit checks.
For example, the job might involve working with vulnerable adults, or children. Or it might be in security or policing. In those cases, specific checks may include criminal record checks. Or if the job is in finance, then you may need to do a credit check. You need to ensure that the type of checks you require are in line with the responsibilities of the job or industry in which the person will be employed. You should not be doing checks unless there is a specific need for them. Otherwise you may break data protection laws.
If the role involves driving, then you may want to check their driving licence and whether they have any driving restrictions. You might also do a health check.
Health checks should only be carried out if there is a legal requirement for them (for example doing eye tests for commercial vehicle drivers). There may be a job related requirement for a health check (for example, if there is an insurance requirement for some aspect of the role).
Pre-Employment Checks for any employer
There are some checks which you may want to carry out to ensure you are hiring the best person for the role. Things such as reference checks come under this heading. But remember there are still pitfalls you need to avoid when carrying out these checks. You may need to withdraw an offer based on the outcome of pre-employment checks. If so, you want to be able to avoid potential liability for things such as loss of earnings, or injury to feelings.
As an example, most employers carry out reference checks as an effective way of checking the suitability of a candidate, but you must avoid asking discriminatory questions.
Likewise, you might carry out social media screening and decide not to employ based on something in their social media history. But you must beware of any kind of bias based on such things as religion or sexual orientation evidenced through their social media. If an applicant can successfully argue that your decision not to employ them was based on some discrimination, then compensation (potentially unlimited) may be payable. This is the case even if the individual has never been employed by you.
It is sensible to check up on the educational and other qualifications which an applicant says they have. If your vacancy requires someone to have a specific qualification to be able to do the job, then you would be wise to check that the preferred candidate does actually have that qualification. You need to beware of a check on the web, as there are some websites now which provide fake certification, for a fee. There are even realistic university websites, which are fake. So don’t rely on the documentation provided by candidates, or on a website to verify the qualification. It is worth doing a check direct with the University or issuing body.
Potential pitfalls for recruiters
When you are carrying out pre-employment checks, you must be sure they are in line with data protection legislation. In general terms, this means that you must only carry out checks which are necessary. You must carry them out fairly, lawfully and with transparency. Any data which you record and keep on employment records must be kept up to date and must be accurate. It must not be kept any longer than is necessary and it must be kept secure.
You must beware of discrimination in your recruitment process as a whole. With regard to pre-employment checks, you must be sure not to only target specific people or types of people. For example, don’t do health checks only for older people. Don’t do right to work checks only for people you think may not have the right. You must also be careful not to discriminate against a candidate who has a disability if that disability would not stop them from being able to do the job.
To minimise your risks, you should make sure anyone involved in the recruitment process has been properly trained. It is also a good idea to keep records of the recruitment process and all steps taken. There may be some cost involved in this, but it will minimise the danger of legal action and will be a saving in the long run.
In conclusion …
It is tempting for an employer to carry out a wide variety of pre-employment checks to make sure they are recruiting the right candidate for the job. But there are pitfalls in this area and it is sensible to only carry out checks which are necessary.
This area is something to consider as part of your recruitment strategy and it is certainly worth ensuring that any staff involved in the recruitment process (including doing the checks) have been trained properly.
If you spend a little time on making sure you do the right pre-employment checks, then you will minimise the chances of legal challenge. Additionally, you are being fair to all your employees and maximising the likelihood of taking on the right employee for the role.
If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.