A background check policy guides the activities of your background screening program. It makes the background check process more predictable by defining the screening process and core responsibilities of everyone involved. When you regularly update your policy, your background screening program operates with greater compliance and efficiency.

Having a background screening policy is not just policy for its own sake. A well-designed policy incorporates best practices and regulatory compliance updates to help you minimize hiring risk and move candidates smoothly from application to hire.

Here are some key considerations to help you define your background check policy and keep it updated.

Key Components of a Background Check Policy 

Whether you are creating a new policy or updating an existing one, it is important to define the parameters and steps involved in conducting background checks within the organization. A comprehensive policy helps all internal stakeholders understand the procedures for conducting background checks and the various roles of candidates, recruiters, and the background screening company.

Your background screening policy should include the following components:


Your background screening policy should have a stated objective. The policy should describe the aim of the background screening program and how the program delivers value to the organization. Examples of purpose can include a combination of the following goals: 

  • Mitigation of hiring and reputational risks
  • A safer work and patient environment
  • A drug-free workplace
  • Fewer workplace injuries 


Background screening comprises a broad range of activities, so your background screening policy must explain the types of background screening you conduct. There are many options, and not all background screening programs are the same. Some examples of screening activities include: 

  • Criminal history search
  • Employment sanctions search
  • Educational and employment verification
  • Drug screening
  • I-9 services
  • Driver records searches
  • Continuous workforce monitoring

The scope of your background check policy should also include which screening activities will apply to specific job categories. For example, background checks for nursing staff in a hospital will include license verification, but custodial or dining staff will most likely not be subject to license searches.


A core component of your background screening policy is a practical summary of how you will conduct background checks. Background check procedures should comprise all the steps of your background check program, from the questions you ask on your job applications to the decision-making process for adverse employment actions. Each procedure must comply with applicable federal and state hiring laws so you reduce the risk of costly fines and lawsuits. 

Key background check procedures should cover the following areas:

  • Timeline: When to initiate a candidate background check
  • Candidate data: When and how to request background information from candidates
  • Compliance: Which actions you will take to comply with laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), “ban the box” laws, and salary history bans
  • Adverse action: What process you will use for evaluating candidate backgrounds that may not meet hiring criteria
  • Drug screening: Which substances you will include in drug screening, including specific procedures for complying with evolving marijuana legalization laws
  • Continuous monitoring: When and how you will conduct continuous background screening after hire

Disclosure and Authorization 

Any comprehensive background check policy should include FCRA-compliant disclosures and authorizations. Organizations using non-compliant disclosure and authorization forms can be subject to fines and headline-grabbing lawsuits. The number of FCRA litigation recently reached a record high, with 4,163 claims filed through October 2019. Many involved violations for non-compliant disclosure.

Conducting an audit is the best way to assess your entire background screening  program. Don’t know where to start? We can help>>>

Signs of an Outdated Background Screening Policy

After you have designed a new background screening policy and begin using it, you will need to keep the policy up-to-date. An outdated policy can put your background check activities out of compliance and make the whole screening process less efficient.

It’s a good idea to work with your background screening partner to regularly review your background check policy and program for consistency, compliance, and clarity. Some of the signs your policy may be outdated and ready for a thorough review include:

You haven’t reviewed your policy in the last year. 

Laws, regulations, and best practices are ever-evolving. As a result, you need to update your background screening policy to include the latest updates in federal and state law, and review procedures for best practices applicable to your industry.

Your policy doesn’t include all necessary job categories.

If your organization has recently completed a merger or acquisition, there may be new or different job categories your current background check policy doesn’t cover. You will need to add new job types and make sure the policy includes screening activities for those positions.

You’ve expanded into new geographical areas.

Each state has its own laws covering hiring and background screening activities. Your existing policy will need to expand to include hiring laws for the new states where you operate.

Your drug screening program includes broad testing for marijuana.

Many states have legalized some form of marijuana use, making it a necessity for employers to update their policies accordingly. You may decide to have state-specific drug screening policies or remove marijuana testing altogether.

You’re considering continuous background screening.

Workforce background monitoring delivers information about employment sanctions and employee license activity. If you’re considering adding it to your existing screening program, your policy will need to expand to include continuous monitoring activities, including new forms for disclosure and authorization.

It’s been a while since you updated background check disclosure and authorization forms.

Background check disclosures must follow rules set by the FCRA. By using outdated or erroneous disclosure forms, you can increase your hiring risk and open the organization to costly lawsuits.

Your current policy doesn’t include post-COVID-19 screening procedures.

If you have added new health screening procedures related to COVID-19, or any new background check procedures for individuals returning to work after furlough, you will need to update your policy accordingly.

How to Design and Update Your Current Background Check Policy

No organization is the same, and your background screening policy shouldn’t be either. With the help of available resources, you can craft a background screening policy to align with your hiring and talent management practices and adhere to applicable federal and state laws.

Here are some ideas for crafting or updating your policy to fit your organization’s needs:

Align with existing practices

A background check policy is no good if it doesn’t reflect the procedures you follow during the hiring process. Compare your current policy with actual practice to see where you need to make changes. Zero in on any discrepancies or areas that are not in compliance with existing regulations and decide how the policy (or practices) should change to achieve your stated purpose.

Partner with a reputable background screening provider

In addition to conducting background checks, an experienced background screening company can help you create or update your existing policy. Your screening partner can review your policy and program for any potential risks, and offer options for addressing areas of concern.

Incorporate applicable laws and best practices

Your background check program will benefit from regular reviews and ongoing alignment with evolving laws and best practices. You can work with your background screening provider to shape your policy around background screening developments affecting your industry.

Defining and updating your background check policy is a worthwhile exercise for supporting the overall health of your background screening program. With a well-defined policy and detailed procedures for a range of screening activities, your organization can cut down on the ambiguity and confusion created by an outdated policy. Instead, you can have a compliant, comprehensive policy which allows you to conduct background checks more efficiently. 

New call-to-action