Background Checks – Ten key checks employers must make

Background checks are an integral part of the recruitment process. However, it is also challenging and complex, with numerous factors to consider. Without careful consideration, this process can lead to a lack of compliance; and ultimately, legal, financial, and reputational consequences.

Furthermore, a lack of process can result in hiring the wrong candidates, which can damage any organisation, regardless of their size.

With more staff working remotely and new candidates having access to sensitive information, it is more vital than ever to get employment background checks right.

However, keeping abreast of changing compliance regulations in the UK can make this process even more difficult. Also, without the right checks in place, employers put themselves at risk of hiring the wrong people.

So, what can employers do to ensure an effective screening process?

In this article, we look at 10 employment background checks that every employer must consider:

Right to Work Checks

A right to work check is a process that establishes if an employee has the right to work in the UK.

This process involves checking documents which can range from a passport, biometric residence permit, an immigration status document, residence card, to name a few. In addition, the employer must implement a process of dating and filing these documents.

All employers have a legal obligation to perform these checks, regardless of the candidate’s race, nationality, or ethnicity. The key is not to assume a worker has the right to work in the UK.

An employer who dismisses their obligations may be subject to a maximum civil fine of £20,000 per individual and/or a criminal sanction of an unlimited fine or imprisonment of five years.

Criminal Record Checks

If relevant and proportionate to the role, employers have the right to perform a criminal record check. Failure to perform a criminal record check when its needed could lead to hiring unsuitable candidates, who may cause financial, legal, or reputational damage.

In the UK, these are known as DBS checks (which stands for Disclosure and Barring Service); formerly known as CRB checks. The type of DBS check an employer should perform are dictated by the laws and regulations of their industry.

There are three main types of DBS checks; Basic, Standard and Enhanced:


This can be used for any position or purpose. It contains details of convictions and cautions from the Police National Computer (PNC), “…that are considered to be unspent under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974.”


This details all criminal history, including cautions, warnings, reprimands, and convictions held by the Police National Computer (PNC). These are typical checks taken out on court officers, prison employees, Security Industry Authority (SIA) personnel, etc.


Similar to a standard DBS, an enhanced DBS also searches the DBS Children’s Barred List or the DBS Adult first (which ensures the candidate is not barred from working with vulnerable groups). Typically, these are performed on (but not limited to) education and health care professionals.

Note: There is no difference between a CRB and DBS.

Click here for more information on DBS checks.

Employment References

It is highly recommended to obtain references from former employers, even though there is no legal obligation to do so.

The aim of this process, simply put, is to ensure the candidate has the experience stated on their application. By not implementing such checks, an employer puts themselves at risk of hiring staff who are unsuitable for the job; thus, wasting time and money.

In some instances, a candidate may not have employment references. For example, a University graduate might not have any previous work experience (in which case, educational references or character references would suffice).

Educational References

Like employment references, education verification gives employers the opportunity to determine if the candidate has the education, skills, and knowledge they say they have.

Whilst it is a simple process to ask for an academic reference and certificates, there are candidates who fabricate educational credentials. From fraudulent certificates to bogus online colleges, employers must implement a process to ensure the credentials they check are genuine and valid.

Credit Check

Pre-employment credit checks are used as part of the employment background check within the financial sector. The aim is to help employers understand the financial situation of a candidate and reduce the risk of fraud.

A typical pre-employment credit check must examine public and private databases for County Court Judgements (CCJs), bankruptcies, voluntary arrangements, decrees, and administration orders.

For non-financial companies, pre-employment credit checks are not necessary. However, if an employer feels its necessary to take out these checks, it must be proportionate to the nature of the role (e.g. an accountancy role).

DVLA Check

Anyone who drives on behalf of a company must be subject to a DVLA check. This also includes third parties who have access to a company vehicle, and employees who drive their own vehicle for work-related tasks.

A DVLA check will show licence validity, any disqualification, licence expiry date, vehicle types the candidate can drive, and any offences or penalty points. Furthermore, it can also be used to determine whether a candidate meets industry-specific requirements.

Failure to complete DVLA checks could lead to the hiring of unsuitably qualified or dangerous drivers. And if they are involved in an accident, and it is proved they were driving as part of their job, the organisation in question can face large fines.

Click here for more information DVLA checks.

Social Media Screening

There has been a considerable increase in organisations making use of social media to research candidates’ backgrounds. The primary reason is that social media can reveal behavioural information about a candidate, which is not revealed during the interview process.

It should not be assumed that a candidate without a criminal record, nor adverse employment references, is incapable of anti-social, illegal or violent behaviour.

However, there are legal risks if employers get wrong. If a company decide not to hire a candidate, due to something they found on one of their social media accounts, they must have justified reasons for doing so. If it is discovered that a personal characteristic (such as race, religion or sexual orientation) influenced their decision, the candidate has the right to take legal action and be awarded compensation.

Medical Checks

Medical checks are specific to roles where a good bill of health is required to perform the role. For example, a first-class medical certificate is required for all pilots involved in commercial aviation. This ensures a pilot does not encounter health problems whilst on duty that could endanger crew and passengers.

Medical checks should not be implemented without justification. In addition, since the Equality Act 2010, organisations cannot ask candidates health questions before they are offered employment. The aim is to prevent organisations making discriminatory decisions based on the physical health, mental health and/or disability of a candidate. 

International Sanctions

An International Sanctions check detects if a candidate is suspected to be affiliated with terrorism, animal rights, money laundering, drug trafficking, arms dealing, war crimes, white collar fraud, or other illegal activities. These checks can also extend to detecting ‘Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs), as well as an ‘Adverse Media’ search.

Typically, political organisations and government bodies take out these sanctions checks. However, finance and aviation companies have been known to implement these checks.

The aim of these checks is to prevent employers attracting adverse media attention and affiliations with illegal entities.

Click here for more information on sanctions checks.

Sanctions Checks (UK)

UK employers looking to hire candidates who have owned or operated a company in the past must conduct a sanctions check. This prevents hiring individuals who have continued company trading when the company was insolvent; failed to prepare and file accounts or make returns to Companies House; failed to send in returns or pay to the Crown any tax that is due; and those who have been involved in fraudulent activity.

Ensuring Compliant Background Checks

Each of the aforementioned checks must be considered by all companies when it comes to their recruitment process. Failure to consider such checks can lead to, certainly a waste of time and money, but also reputational and legal ramifications.

Companies, HR departments, etc., can act today; simply by asking themselves the following questions:

  1. Does the organisation have a process for performing background checks?
  2. Is there an effective system or software in place to manage this process?
  3. Are all the 10 checks considered throughout the recruitment process?
  4. Is the process efficient, GDPR-compliant, industry-compliant?
  5. How does the organisation file sensitive information?
  6. Is the company performing appropriate checks for each candidate? (e.g. credit check for a financial analyst role; DVLA check for a courier driver role)
  7. Is the employment background check process too lengthy? (is there a lot of admin work needed? Does the process deter top-quality candidates from accepting a role?)
  8. Does the process prevent discrimination?

If in doubt, consider outsourcing employment background checks. Alternatively, utilise software that can make this process more efficient, with an emphasis on compliance.

Our Employment Check Lite software is a FREE employment background check solution, favoured by many small to large organisations around the world. Fast, automated, and fully GDPR-compliant. If you want to make your recruitment process more efficient and with compliance assured, then follow this link to find out more today.

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