What pre-employment checks should employers be carrying out?

Pre-employment screening is often used to demonstrate the suitability of job applicants but what are the various checks that can be carried out?

Right to work in the UK

Employers have a legal obligation to carry out checks to ensure an applicant has the right to work in the UK by reviewing a passport or birth certificate.  Many businesses still fail to do this consistently.

References and non-compete clauses

Job offers often carry a caveat that the offer is subject to ‘satisfactory references’. In the absence of the statutory requirement there is no obligation for a new employer to seek a reference, nor for a past employer to provide one/ However, it is advisable to seek at least one reference to verify work experience and potential suitability for the new job role. 

Employers should also check whether the applicant has any ‘non-compete’ clauses or other restrictions in their previous employment contracts which could limit their ability to work for the business. 

Medical checks

Many employer are unsure if, when, and to what extent, they can ask applicants about their medical history. The rules vary, depending on the stage in the recruitment process. 

Employers should not ask any questions regarding health or disability during the recruitment stage – including questions about the number of sick days taken at the applicant’s previous place of work if they wish to avoid any potential discrimination against people with disabilities. 

However, there are exceptions to the rule. It is acceptable to ask questions to determine whether any adjustments are required for an assessment process, or to establish whether or not an applicant can do part of a job that is absolutely essential (for example, climbing or heavy lifting).

Once a job offer is made, employers can then ask about medical conditions that might affect the employee’s ability to do their job; or questions to find out if they need to make any reasonable adjustments – such as an adapted work environment or flexibility.

Background/criminal checks

Employers should only carry out criminal record checks if this can be justified in relation to the job that the employer is recruiting for – this would include working in care or banking, for example

While there is nothing to prevent businesses from asking prospective employees about their criminal records if it is considered necessary and proportionate, this should ideally be done only once the successful applicant has been selected and employment has been offered pending reference checks. Businesses should also take care not to ask about ‘spent’ convictions and ensure these do not have any bearing on a decision to employ someone. 

Investigating social media accounts 

Employers should take care when inspecting social media profiles, and it is advisable to only do so when there is a legitimate reason relevant to the job or position, such as where the employee will be a spokesperson or have significant public exposure. 

Employers should anyway be mindful of making decisions based on information found online, particularly if it involves a protected characteristic such as race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. Reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the accuracy of any personal data found online. 

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