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Background and Drug Screening – Not a Question of Why, but a Question of When

It is undisputed how valuable background screenings are in the hiring process.  They not only provide a tremendous amount of information about job applicants, they also save a company time and money by reducing the risks of a bad hire, workplace safety issues, and even workplace crime.  Although everyone agrees how important they are, questions arise as to their timing.  Specifically, whether they can or should be completed before or after an offer of employment is made.

There are currently no federal laws restricting the timing of background or drug screening (other than occupational health screenings which may fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act).   State and local laws are really where the timing issue arises.  Some state, city, and county laws have restrictions in that you either are not allowed to conduct one at all prior to an offer of employment or where you can conduct one, but certain information is limited.  There are also Ban the Box laws limiting inquiries into criminal history at various times during the hiring process, which may include post application, post initial interview, or after conditional offer is made.  The laws vary greatly between jurisdictions and it is important to understand how those laws impact the timing in each jurisdiction where you are considered an employer.  For a complete ban the box resource guide, click here.

If you are in a state where pre-offer background and drug screenings are allowed, there are some advantages to doing them early.  For example, after a job fair for a large hiring initiative where starting the process early will assist you in having candidates available to work as soon as possible. The sooner you start, the faster you can learn if someone is not a good fit for the company and move on (after sending the required notifications).   If you have to wait until after an offer has been made, you will have to start again from step one with someone else, which will increase the amount of time that position stays open.  From the opposite perspective, when you find the right person early, he or she can have a faster start date after the offer is accepted, since the background screening is already completed.  Additionally, some searches take more time than others.  Starting early gives you adequate time to get the screening completed in its entirety.

Pre-offer background and drug screenings also have some disadvantages to consider.  There is a higher cost associated with doing the screening for multiple applicants at the same time.  This is especially true for industries with a high turnover rate, where costs can add up quickly.  Depending on the need to have candidates ready to work as soon as possible and the speed in which the background and drug screens are completed, companies should analyze the cost benefit specific to their company.

Employers should not let a question of timing stop them from conducting a background screening.  You should consult with your attorney to ensure you stay in compliance with your own state and local laws and remember that even if you are in a Ban the Box state, the provisions of your law may be vastly different from another.  This is especially important for employers with multi-state operations.  Once you ensure that you are compliant, it is important to stick with your company’s policy and stay consistent in terms of the timing of your background screening by location and by a certain position.  Another option is to hire a third party to conduct your background screenings.  Using a third-party background and drug screening vendor, such as Hire Image, can help you find accurate information on your candidates, as well as help you develop a process that works for your organization.

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