The State of Screening

More companies are giving job candidates with criminal histories the chance to explain themselves.

Roughly 72 percent of employers said they provide background assessments where candidates with criminal histories are able to explain the details of their conviction, according to a survey from background check firm EmployeeScreenIQ, the highest percentage since the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new guidelines on employers’ use of criminal records in 2012.

“Employment Screening 2015: Background Screening Trends & Practices,” the company’s sixth-annual survey of U.S.-based employers, was conducted in early 2015 and polled more than 500 employees from middle management to the C-suite. The respondents represented more than 24 industries, the most common being technology, banking, health care and government/military.

The top reason employers conduct background checks is to protect clients/customers (46 percent), according to the survey. Others want to enhance workplace safety (16 percent) and identify the best candidates for the job (15 percent).

When hiring an executive-level officer, most employers (58 percent) said they use the same background check that’s used for all employees. Others (39 percent) conduct deeper checks. Just 2 percent don’t conduct a background check, and 1 percent uses a less extensive one, the survey showed.

Overall, most companies have uncovered information that makes them rethink a job candidate, but it doesn’t happen all that often.

The vast majority (90 percent) of companies polled have at least once uncovered information that led them to not hire a candidate. However, for those who have revealed criminal convictions, 44 percent said the revelation disqualifies less than 5 percent of their candidates.

The top kinds of criminal history that would disqualify a candidate are crimes of violence and crimes of theft and dishonesty (Figure 1). Offenses that are least likely to disqualify a candidate are drug offenses (32 percent), minor infractions or driving offenses (11 percent) and charges that don’t result in a conviction (4 percent).


About 20 percent of those polled never ask job candidates about criminal history. Most (53 percent) ask on the job application, down from 66 percent in last year’s survey. Another 15 percent ask after an offer is made, while only 7 percent ask during the interview.

As marijuana becomes legal in some states, changes to drug testing are likely on the horizon. The survey asked how the legalization of marijuana would affect companies’ drug testing policies. Most (54 percent) said they would continue their current testing program, while 20 percent said they don’t have a drug-testing program. About 12 percent of companies surveyed said they would ignore positive tests for marijuana.

If a candidate didn’t divulge a past conviction but it came up later, 44 percent of firms said they would reject the candidate for lying on the application, according to the survey.

Almost as many (39 percent) would let the candidate explain the circumstances of the conviction. Some (14 percent) don’t ask on the job application, and only 3 percent would ignore the omission and evaluate to determine eligibility.

Résumé discrepancies also aren’t taken lightly. If a candidate lied about their degree or diploma, 75 of percent respondents said they wouldn’t hire the candidate. Additionally, 44 percent wouldn’t hire if the dates of employment were an issue, and 34 percent said they wouldn’t hire if the job title were inaccurate.

Of companies that decided not to follow through with the hire based on the background check, almost half (42 percent) said their follow-up action is to send both the pre-adverse action and adverse action notice.

Some send only the pre-adverse action notice (5 percent), and 18 percent only send the adverse action notice. About 35 percent of companies don’t send either notice, which could put organizations at risk for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the survey said. In the past year, this has cost employers $3.1 million in FCRA fines.

Most (63 percent) said they do not use online media searches as a means of screening candidates, according to the survey, while 30 percent do. Only 7 percent use a third party for mediasearches. Of those that use media searches, 77 percent use LinkedIn, 57 percent use search engines and 55 percent look to Facebook.

In regards to “ban the box” laws, 48 percent of respondents think it’s unfair to employers, while 12 percent think it’s fair. When asked if the laws are fair for job candidates, 35 percent feel it’s fair, while only 6 percent disagree. Because ban the box laws vary by state and region, 26 percent said the laws are confusing for employers. Some (25 percent) feel the laws delay the hiring process.

 Of screening challenges that companies face, most (51 percent) said compliance with ever-changing screening laws is most important. Least important was proving to management that background-screening programs are worthwhile (3 percent) and improving drug screening programs (2 percent).