What is an Employee Background Check?

An employee background check, also known as a pre-employment screening, is a process where an employer checks to ensure that a person is who they claim to be. It provides an employer with the opportunity to check an employee’s criminal record, employment history, education, and any other relevant activities. UK Employee background checks are standard within the UK, with most UK employers viewing it as a critical means to confirm identity. 

Why would I want to do a Pre-Employment Screening? 

Employees are one of the major resources a company has, as such, good employees are highly valuable. An unqualified employee can lead to failures in your company or legal problems. A dishonest employee could lead to a significant loss of company goodwill. A hostile employee could place other co-workers at risk, or at the very least, disrupt the environment for other employees. As such, employers have a key interest in ensuring that they hire the best candidates possible. Employee background checks are a crucial part of this determination process, as they can help an employer protect their business, customers, and employees. 

There are various reasons why an employer would conduct a pre-employment screening some of the main reasons are:

What Types of UK Employee Background Checks Should Be Conducted? 

There are 9 pre-employment screening tests that should be conducted, and they are as follows:

Criminal Background Check

Criminal record or criminal background checks for employment, are conducted to ascertain the criminal background of an applicant or employee. This check is officially known as a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Employers conducting this check must ensure that the checks are proportionate and relevant for the role being applied for, or being held by an employee. Employers also need to comply with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974, Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and the Police Act 1997.

The main consideration an employer must have is that their criminal background check is limited to information that is necessary for the relevant position. This is because the ROA limits the extent that an employer can base their decision on criminal record information. 

Spent convictions refer to where a person has previously committed a criminal offense but they have not re-offended for a specified period of time. Spent convictions cannot be requested by employers. In such instances, applicants are considered to have a clean criminal record unless they fit within the exceptions laid out in the ROA. 

Credit Check UK Employee Check

Credit Check

A credit check is usually part of the pre-employment screening process for the financial sector. Similar to criminal background checks, they are only permitted to the extent that they are necessary, that is, they should be proportionate to the relevant job title. For example, a role that does not require any financial duties, will not require a credit check. Employers must also note that The Information Commissioner’s Office suggests that credit checks should only be required when there is no other less invasive alternative. 

Education History Check

Education and qualifications are often crucial to acceptance for a particular job, as such it is important for employers to confirm that their employees are qualified for the role as they stated in their application. It must be noted that people are becoming increasingly adept at fabricating qualification certificates and diplomas, as such employers should be aware and prepared to review all presented content. 

Employment Reference Check

Employment reference checks are a useful tool for employers to verify the appropriateness of an applicant for a particular role. That said, employers must be careful not to ask discriminatory questions because if an employer chooses to withdraw an offer on the basis of a discriminatory reference, they could be liable for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.

Right to Work in the UK

Employers need to verify that an employee or applicant has the right to work in the UK. This is a check that all employers have to do regardless of their nationality, ethnic origin, race, or origin in order to avoid claims of discrimination. If an employer does not do this they will be making assumptions about a person’s right to work. Employers are also required to securely keep a record of the right to work check as well as a record of the date of the check. Employers who breach any of their obligations can be subject to an unlimited fine under a criminal sanction, or a civil fine of up to £20,000 per person. Employers should also comply with the Immigration, Asylum, and Nationality Act 2006.

Social Media Screening

Employers could potentially discover incriminating, illegal, anti-social, or violent behavior on an applicant’s or employee’s social media platforms however, employers must note that they should ensure that the decision they make is not in any way based on a protected characteristic. Additionally, if this information is to be sought after, searches should be proportionate, necessary, and transparent. 

Public Safety Verification

Pre-employment screening for terrorist activity is a test that is done especially in sectors that are regulated, such as finance, aviation, and government. For employers working in these regulated industries, there could be monetary fines if they employ people on sanctioned lists.

DLVA Checks

DVLA Checks also need to be conducted. This will help employers confirm the identity of the applicant or employee. Employers can use the DVLA check to look over names, dates of birth, aliases and check them against other information brought to them by any applicants and employees. 

Drug Testing

These tests can only be carried out in limited circumstances, specifically, situations where working under the influence of alcohol or drugs could pose a safety risk. This test can only be carried out where it is required and the employee has given their consent to the test.

In general, asking about an applicant’s health information prior to offering them a job is unlawful and is only permitted if there is an occupational requirement for this information. 

There are no laws prohibiting the collection of fingerprints from applicants or employees, however, in collecting this information, employers should be careful as they could breach data protection laws. In general, employers should collect this information where it is proportionate and necessary. Collecting this information is very uncommon. 

Drug Testing in the UK

When Can an Employee Background Check Be Conducted? 

Employers are typically able to conduct employee background checks during the final stages of the application or hiring procedure. The employer can also conduct an employee background check immediately before an offer of employment or immediately after an applicant has accepted the position. Where a pre-employment screening is conducted after an offer has been issued, the offer relies on the applicant passing the requirements of the employee background check. 

Employee background checks are also conducted where an employee is being considered for a promotion. This is because the larger or more senior the position of the employee, the larger the impact of any wrongdoing they commit. Some employers also choose to conduct a background check annually. 

Are UK Employee Background Checks Legal? 

Pre-employment screenings collect a substantial amount of personal data from the employee as such, there are rules in place to snare that the employer stores this employee data appropriately. 

Employers are also required to do the following:

  • Have an appropriate reason for collecting the employee background information 
    • There must be a clear reason for the data to be collected
  • Applicants have to give Consent 
    • The candidate must be aware that the data is being collected 
    • Consent must not be assumed but given expressly in writing
  • Data must be appropriately stored 
    • Employers must ensure that the data is securely stored
    • If there is ever a breach appropriate steps must be taken to ensure that a breach is cannot occur again
  • Employees must also have access to the Collected Data  
    • Employees must be able to access the collected data at any time if they require

Further guidance on UK employee background checks and compliance can be found here. The above guidelines are in line with the GDPR guidelines and Data Protection Act, however, employers are advised to read these guidelines and contact a lawyer as this article does not constitute legal advice. 

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