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Background Screening: The HR Professional Perspective

June 21, 2019


June 21, 2019

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As the world moves toward a more global workforce, the use of background checks, especially those that incorporate international data, is increasing exponentially, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). The impetus behind seeking background checks continues to be the focus on protecting both employers and their customers, especially in regard to hiring international talent.

Now a routine part of the onboarding process at companies big and small, background checks usually are conducted only after a conditional job offer is made, in order to avoid allegations of hiring bias. The lag time between submitting a background check order and receiving a final report is still a challenge to conducting quick and efficient onboarding.

In 2019, the NAPBS commissioned to conduct a survey of 2,301 HR professionals to determine their perspectives on, and uses of, background screening. These are the results.

What Are The Number of Companies Using Background Checks?

Almost all (96% of) HR Departments conduct one or more types of background checks, which is up only one percentage point from the 2018 survey. Not only are 86% of companies checking their full-time employees, but 67% also check their part-time employees, to determine their eligibility and suitability for jobs. These numbers only differ from results of the 2018 and 2017 surveys by a percentage point or two.

Of those 4% of companies that do not use background checks in their onboarding process:


31% chose to use other screening methods.


19% could not provide a specific reason for not requesting background checks on job applicants.

20% stated that background check costs are prohibitive.


What Are The Reasons For Using Background Screenings?

Employers continue to focus on their responsibility to maintain a safe and secure workplace, protecting their current employees and customers from dangerous or violent new hires, with 85% citing this as their main reason for conducting background checks.

While workplace safety continues to hold the top spot regarding the reasons for background checks, 51% of employers are seeking to hire a better quality of talent through the use of background screenings.

Other important reasons that companies are increasingly turning to background checks include:


Maintaining and protecting the company reputation



Meeting legal or regulatory requirements

Preventing or reducing criminal activity in the workplace


Quality and Accuracy vs. Timeliness of Background Checks

Information provided in background checks can have far-reaching impacts. It is of utmost importance that this information is accurate. Background check accuracy depends on being able to identify the information associated with a given individual, using data elements such as their full name and date of birth by month, day and year. Unfortunately, many Federal, State, and local court data systems are now redacting this data. The PACER Federal Court data system is notorious for its exclusion of birth dates. This inability to access data, and accurately match it to an individual can cause hiring delays, sometimes even resulting in an applicant losing out on a job opportunity, while data matching takes place.

Which HR Departments Conduct Background Checks?

The NAPBS survey covered many types of companies. Forty-two percent of those surveyed had fewer than 100 employees, with the remainder being larger companies. Fifty-two percent of the respondents were privately held companies, 26% were non-profits.

Of those surveyed:

77% reported that they have documented their background screening policy.


10% weren’t certain that they had such a policy.


12% had no background screening policy in place.


The survey revealed that 66% of employers wait to do a background check until after a conditional job offer is extended to an applicant, representing an increase of four percentage points over a previous NAPBS survey. While most employers (59%) are conducting their background checks only during the hiring process, 12% are conducting background checks at other times, as required by law, and 11% are conducting background checks outside the hiring process on a “for-cause” basis.

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What Is The Value Of International Screening Capabilities?

Whether they actually use, or intend to use, an international background screening of their job applicants, 95% of companies surveyed recognized that having this capability is important in today’s rapidly growing global economy, where talented workers can be solicited from anywhere in the world.

What Are The Types Of Background Checks Being Requested?

National Criminal Database Background Checks

The 2019 NAPBS survey revealed that national criminal database background checks are the most commonly requested.


94% of employers seek this data on at least some, if not all, job applicants. This number has remained relatively unchanged since the 2018 survey (94%) and the 2017 survey (93%).

Social Media Background Checks

Social media background checks continue to be a more hands-off component.

73% of respondents do not request such checks at all.


Only 15% use social media background checks for some, if not all, job candidates. This is down from the 2018 survey (17%).


This data was not gathered for the 2017 survey.

State and Country Criminal Database Searches

Fingerprint-Based Criminal Database Searches

Social Security Number Searches

State and county criminal database searches are being used by 96% of employers on some, if not all, of their job applicants. This is up from the 2018 survey (87%) but down from the 2017 survey (97%).


Only 31% of survey respondents are using fingerprint-based criminal database searches. This is down from the 2018 survey (35%) but down from the 2017 survey (28%).


Social Security Number searches are being used by 91% of survey respondents.


Credit or Financial Searches

Education Verification

44% of respondents are requesting credit or financial searches on their job applicants. This is down from the 2018 survey (47%) but up from the 2017 survey (31%).


The 2019 survey revealed that 52% of employers are using background checks to verify education, compared to 56% in 2018 and 41% in 2017.


Driving Records

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Sex Offender Registry

Driving records were requested by 74% of 2019 survey respondents, while 78% requested this data in 2018 and 68% in 2017.


Drug and alcohol data was requested by 62% of the 2019 survey respondents, the same as in 2018, but up from 52% in 2017.


Sexual Offender Registry data was requested by 75% of survey respondents in 2019, while 77% requested this data in 2018 and 70% in 2017.


License Verifications

Employment Verification

International Background Checks

Licensure verifications were requested by 52% of the 2019 survey respondents, with 57% requesting such verification in 2018 and only 49% in 2017.


Employment verification was requested by 62% of 2019 survey respondents, compared to 65% in 2018. This data was not gathered for the 2017 survey.


International background checks were requested by 29% of the 2019 survey respondents, compared to 27% in 2018 and only 18% in 2017.


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