Statement on the Use of Criminal Background Checks

Mar 23, 2011

Alexandria, Va — The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) considers criminal background checks an appropriate and important tool to help employers make informed hiring decisions.

SHRM represents 255,000 HR professionals in large and small organizations from every industry in every U.S. congressional district and in 140 countries.

SHRM has conducted national research that shows a majority of employers are thoughtful in the hiring process and do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal background checks, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits unlawful discrimination in the hiring process).

Research in 2006 and 2010 does not show an increase in the use of background criminal checks.

A SHRM poll released in January 2010 documents how organizations use criminal history information. It showed organizations follow Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on avoiding discrimination. The “Background Checking: Conducting Criminal Background Checks SHRM Poll” showed:

  • Organizations conduct criminal background checks on job candidates primarily to ensure a safe work environment for employees (61 percent of respondents), to reduce legal liability for negligent hiring (55 percent) and to reduce or prevent theft or other criminal activity (39 percent).
  • Twenty percent of organizations conduct criminal background checks on job candidates because they are required to do so by law. Some federal and state laws and local ordinances require employers to conduct checks for certain positions, including day care providers, health-care providers, teachers, coaches and police.
  • Checks are most commonly conducted for job candidates with fiduciary and financial responsibility (78 percent of organizations), candidates who will have access to highly confidential employee information (68 percent), and senior executive positions (55 percent).
  • When making a hiring decision, HR professionals take into consideration the severity of the criminal activity (97 percent of respondents), number of convictions (95 percent), relevance to the position (93 percent), and length of time since the criminal activity (95 percent). These findings are consistent with EEOC guidance that employers may lawfully make a hiring decision based upon a prior conviction when many of these factors are considered.
  • When adverse information is found, 63 percent of organizations offer the candidate an opportunity to explain the circumstances before the job decision to hire or not to hire is made.
  • Criminal background checks are used on all job candidates by 73 percent of organizations. Nineteen percent of organizations conduct criminal background checks on selected job candidates.

SHRM’s research does not show an increase in the use of criminal background checks. In its 2006 survey “Weapons in the Workplace,” SHRM found that 96 percent of respondents conducted criminal background checks.

Media: For more information, contact Kate Kennedy of SHRM Media Relations at 703-535-6260 or

About the Society for Human Resource Management

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at Follow us on Twitter.


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