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The Legalities of Employer Checks

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Sometimes it seems like there are more hoops than ever to jump through when you want a new job. Gone are the days when you’d phone up about a job advert, have a quick chat on the phone and start the next day. Increasingly, employers are running a large number of checks on workers. It’s a complex picture though as some checks are legally required, some are optional, and others only apply in certain circumstances. Here’s everything you need to know about what you might be asked, and why.


Right to Work

The one thing all employers are obliged to do by law is to make sure that the people who are working for them are doing so legally. In practical terms, that means verifying identities and nationalities. Most employers will ask you to bring a passport with you when you come for interview. This is partly to confirm that you are who you say you are, and also to make sure you’re in the UK legally. If you have a UK passport, then no further checks are needed. Until Brexit, EU citizens have the right to work freely in the UK too. People from outside the EU, and EU citizens after Brexit, will need the right sort of visa in their passport to work in the UK. Employers who don’t check nationalities risk a fine of up to £20,000 per worker, so most just don’t take the risk.


Criminal Records Checks

There are two sorts of things which employers might ask about. The first is a general question about whether or not you have convictions which are unspent under Rehabilitation legislation. Until recently, this was a fairly standard question on all application forms. However, employers are beginning to remove this question from their applications, as a way of recognising that everyone deserves a second chance and someone who has minor convictions may not pose any threat to the business.

The other type of criminal records checks are disclosures. This is a formal way of checking up on someone’s criminal record, through the Disclosure and Barring Service. The DBS offers three levels of disclosure check. A basic disclosure can be done on anyone. The certificate will show your current convictions and cautions only. This isn’t something which employers ask for as standard but are within their rights to ask for if they wish. The other types of disclosure checks are standard and enhanced. These can only be done if your job falls into one of the pre-determined categories set out by the DBS. Most of the roles are involved with looking after people who could be termed vulnerable, or in a position of responsibility. For example, working in a hospital, school or a court requires a DBS job. Most jobs in offices, shops or leisure facilities don’t.


Health Checks or Medicals

Many employers have removed questions about how long you’ve taken off work sick in recent years too. This is because it is a fine line between asking about someone’s sickness and discriminating against someone who has a disability or is pregnant. Employers are not allowed to ask most workers to have a medical before starting work. There are a few exemptions to this rule. If you are being employed to drive a lorry or a taxi, for example, it would be reasonable for an employer to ask for an eye test. Some occupations, such as air traffic controllers or pilots, need to pass a medical in order to get their licence to work. For the majority of workers however, a medical before starting work is not standard practice.


Credit Checks

In some sectors, most usually financial services, employers run credit checks on potential workers. Credit checks are about identifying workers who might have serious debt or be in financial difficulties. People with money worries are statistically more likely to be tempted to steal from an employer or commit fraud. Credit checks are standard in banks or for jobs with insurance or credit card companies. Other employers might run credit checks on people responsible for counting large sums of money, such as the people in charge of cashing up a shop’s takings at the end of the day. Employers should always ask permission of people before running a credit check on them. A credit check done for employment reasons is what is known as a “soft” check and won’t affect someone’s ability to get credit in the future. If employers don’t like what they see on a credit report, they are well within their rights to retract a job offer.


Fact Checking

We’ve all seen the interview round on the Apprentice, where candidates are grilled on their CV and the interviewers point out all the lies and half-truths. It’s not just reality show contestants who tell fibs on their CVs though, and increasingly companies are doing a bit of digging into people’s past. There is nothing illegal about an employer ringing your previous boss and asking whether or not you were in charge of the number of people you said you were. Similarly, checks can be done with exam boards and universities to verify that you attained the grades you are stating. Often, employers don’t tell candidates that they fact check in this way, so the golden rule is always to be scrupulously honest about everything you write on your CV, cover letter and application form.


Social Media

It’s not an urban myth that employers will do a Google search on your name or look at your Instagram page. There’s nothing wrong with having a social media account and using it to post pictures of your holiday, kids or cat. However, it’s never a good idea to post lengthy rants about how much you hate your boss on an open social media account, or to share posts from extremist viewpoints. Similarly, the pictures of you falling over drunk on a night out might not create the impression you were hoping for should your new employer decide to have a trawl through the photos on your Instagram account.