While multiple employment is legal, many are worried it could lead to “failed” background checks at a later date. Is this a valid concern? Our short answer is no, but we’re in uncharted waters. Here’s the reality on background checks: 1) employers must get written permission from you before having their employment screening company run a background check; 2) employers and employment screening companies are limited by law to employment history, education, public and financial records, and 3) they MUST ask you the same questions as every applicant, regardless of race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, medical history, or age. Sound all too familiar? Read and understand your rights.
This article will walk through what is a background check, what information is collected, and how HR and hiring managers use background checks for hiring. We’ll close by assessing if there is any real impact on employability as a result of multiple employment.
What are background checks, really
Generally speaking, background checks fall under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules regarding consumer reports much like credit checks. Rules are enforced by FTC and overseen by EOCC. However, if employers really want to find out about your past employment, they can do a credit check and cross-reference with background checks from ADP and TWN (The Work Number). The truth is though, who has got time for that? What employers, HR, and hiring managers really want is a fast and reliable way to hire good employees. They’re not out on a crusade to hunt down the multi-employed, at least not yet. For all they know, you could have gotten the permission to work both jobs simultaneously (uncommon, but it has happened).
Therefore, background checks are not a simple pass/fail. Rather, they’re jigsaw puzzles collected and verified by employment screening companies from the information you provided, e.g. job application and resume. This dossier will contain explainable discrepancies, such as when you got laid off but were left on the payroll, or why you left a part-time job off your resume. This is all very common. An employment screening company is responsible for verifying the information you provided and identifying any discrepancies. They then provide the dossier to HR and hiring managers to review and make a final hiring decision.
Why companies do background checks
As employers, companies assume a lot of legal risks and liabilities, including the actions of their employees. Consequently, it’s prudent for companies to vet hires for potential criminals and insider threats. Most companies delegate this not-so-glamorous task to their HR function who then contract with an outside employment screen vendor to handle the background checks. Below is the CFPB’s description of what employment screening companies do:
Employment screening companies provide verification information such as credit history, employment, salary, and education and professional license verification to employers and others. They may also provide residential address history and Social Security Number verification; criminal arrest and conviction information, as well as fingerprint information from state and federal criminal record databases; motor vehicle and driver’s record information; drug and alcohol testing and health screening information; and non-profit and volunteer activity verification. Many employment screening companies won’t have information on you unless you authorized an employer or other end-user to obtain a report. If possible, when you give your authorization, ask for the name(s) of the employment screening company being used. Contact those reporting companies to fact-check your reports. If the employer is checking your credit history in separate reports, from one or all three of the nationwide providers of consumer reports [Experian, Transunion, and Equifax], request and review those reports too.
Different types of background checks for different industries and jobs sensitivity
As suggested above, there are different levels of background checks. Each check, e.g. fingerprinting, criminal check, or employment verification, builds on top of one another. It all depends on what level of background check the employers have requested. Moreover, it’s a balancing act between thoroughness (e.g. intrusiveness) versus speed. As you can imagine, as intrusiveness or speed goes up, so do the costs of running a “top secret” background check. What companies try to do is strike a balance between thoroughness, speed, frequency, and costs.
Now, some industries, job types, or seniority could attract more scrutiny (and quite rightly so). For example, an SVP of Finance for a mid-size financial service company will need to go through a financial regulatory check and a credit history check at a minimum. Some might even go as far as requesting character references (e.g. interview their neighbors). In another example, a remote customer service representative will likely only require a criminal background check and a drug screening. Background checks are all about minimizing potential liabilities for employers.
Example solutions provided by an employment screening company
- Criminal background
- Employment and education
- Credit history
- Address verification
- Social security number
- Drug screening
- Global screen (across 196 countries)
- Media/social media
- Motor vehicle records
- International sanction and fraud check
- Financial regulatory check
- Government ID check
What information is collected in background checks
Are you curious about your background check? Find out for yourself. No seriously, you can request a free background check report on yourself, much like a credit history report.
Start with The Work Number, a comprehensive database utilizing pay data provided by employers. Warning: this might freak you out, but rest assured you’ll be ok because you can request a data freeze here. Other vendors will require you to have gone through a background check with them in the past two years to retrieve your old report.
Major employment screening companies you might run into
For a semi-exhaustive list of employment screening companies, visit CFPB and download their report. Go to page 10 in the PDF. Below are the big hitters (applicable for US-only), some are not included in the CFPB list. Note: some states like California have more stringent consumer protection laws than the FCRA. Always know your rights and mention them when requesting to review and freeze your data.
The Work Number
Provides employment and income information. It includes data collected from employers and large private sector payroll processors. The Work Number provides this information to employers. It also provides this information to government agency clients to determine, for example, an applicant’s social service eligibility, or, say, to inform child support collections and enforcement. Equifax Workforce Solutions, also known as TALX Corporation, operates The Work Number. TALX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Equifax.
- Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months (required by FCRA) if you request it. Website: TheWorkNumber.com
ADP Screening & Selection Services, Inc.
Provides background screening services. The company is a subsidiary of ADP, LLC.
- Free report: The company will provide a free report completed in the past two years if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: adpselect.com
- How to request your free copy: Go to ADP (adpselect.com) to request online.
Provides background screening services.
- Free report: The company will provide a free report(required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: HireRight.com
- How to request your free copy: Fill out their request form or request by phone, fax, or snail mail.
Provides background screening services.
- Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months(required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: sterlingcheck.com
- How to request your free copy: Follow their FAQ and fill out their online contact form stating you want a copy of your past background check report.
Provides background screening services with integration into HR systems like Workday, iCIMS, and SAP Success Factors.
- Free report: The company will provide one free report every 12 months (required by FCRA) if you request it and if the company has a file on you. Website: fadv.com
- How to request your free copy: Follow their FAQ and make the request by email, phone, fax. or snail mail. You can also request a data freeze or remove your data completely from First Advantage.
How HR and hiring managers view background checks
As a hiring manager, I can tell you that if a job candidate is verified for the last employer and education and doesn’t have any major discrepancies – I’m good to hire with HR’s approval. Remember, my incentive as a hiring manager is to fill my hire quickly or lose my allocated budget. This new hire will expand my charter and scope, help solve some of my pain points, and generally elevate my importance in the company.
What I don’t care about as much are selective omissions, like leaving past internships or part-time jobs off the resume. Now I’ll admit, my curiosity might get piqued if the background check returns another full-time job that was off the resume. But then again, how would I know if that information was never submitted to the employment screening company to verify?
It’s not like employment screen companies are going above and beyond to do an exhaustive background check in order to impress the client. Their job is to verify and deliver the dossier based on information the job candidate provided as automated as possible. No more, no less. They aren’t going out asking your neighbors about you and snooping around your trash for a bank statement (that’d be illegal, again). It’d also be very expensive.
There’s also an element of luck that a hiring manager might inadvertently find out you were multi-jobbing. For instance, if both your jobs used ADP and your prospective employer is using ADP screening and selection service – well, you’re out of luck. Could this happen? Absolutely. What are the chances? Maybe 1 out of 10. ADP is an HR payroll behemoth but few employers use them for employment screening (thankfully).
Key takeaways on background checks and multi-jobbing
This is all hypothetical at this moment. The data points we’ve seen in the community are people landing and accepting jobs even after having multiple jobs. We suspect a post-background check adverse action against an employment offer is rare and carries its own legal risks of rejecting a candidate for protected activity.
Moreover, the employment screening industry is fragmented, highly regulated, and very competitive. This means employers and HR have a long list of employment screening vendors to choose from and the winner is usually the low-cost provider. In another word, the employment screening industry relies on a high degree of automation to reduce costs.
What does that mean for you as a multi-jobber? The good news is as long as you’re managing your consumer data carefully, such as placing security freezes and opting out of other data services like The Work Number and ZoomInfo, you can multi-job under the radar. Ditto for social media activities. Stay anonymous and off the radar.
Still don’t think multi-jobbing is legal? Check out what Bloomberg has to say.
Leave us a comment if you’ve run into a post-background adverse action or employment denial. We’d love to help!
This article was written with the assistance of our community members Tailorstack#7996 and sarahi#9760. Visit our Discord community to learn more.