When Should Employers Use a National Criminal Database Search?

Background checks are an important part of the hiring process. However, not all background checks are created equally. While local county criminal records offer the most accurate information to employers, they come at a higher price point. A national criminal database search is comparably, more affordable, and offers a tempting shortcut to employers. However, the attractive price comes with serious limitations and should NEVER be considered the single source of truth. It is important for employers to understand the use case and limitations of a national criminal database search. Failing to do so puts your company at risk of unfairly excluding an otherwise qualified candidate and even puts you at risk of litigation.

Here’s a closer look at how and how NOT to use a national criminal database search:

The national criminal database is only a starting point.

While local county records are the most accurate data source, there are over 3,000 jurisdictions. From a time and cost standpoint, it is not viable to look into each and every employee’s history at the local level. National criminal database checks can be useful as a starting point for understanding a candidate’s criminal background but it is by no means the authoritative source. Think about it as a first look that can help point your way to further investigation. For example, a national level search can help you pinpoint potential red flags in a specific jurisdiction so you can go straight to that first.

Never rely solely on national findings.

National criminal databases are incomplete and often inaccurate. This is partly because the national database does not include every jurisdiction, and partly due to how the data is added and maintained. On the second point, records are added and updated disparately of each jurisdiction. As a result, these searches should not be relied on as the “end-all be-all” when looking into the criminal history of an employee or candidate.

Always verify with the authoritative source of information.

Be wary of search providers who try to sell you findings based exclusively in national searches. These findings should be cross-referenced and verified by a local level search to ensure they are accurate and can be used for employment decisions. Be warned that if you are purchasing an ‘instant’ criminal records check online, chances are you are only getting a database search.

Background checks are key for finding the right talent for your company and demonstrating due diligence. However, it is important to know how best to use criminal checks–and which checks to use–in your hiring process. Take a look at criminal records searches available to employers to find out what works best for your company.

About Michael Gaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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