Advice for Employers and Recruiters

6 Reasons HR would Reject Employees Based on Their Backgrounds

William Frierson AvatarWilliam Frierson
April 17, 2014

Michael Klazema

Michael Klazema

Why do human resources departments run background checks, and how do employers use the information obtained through such background checks to reject potential job applicants?

The first part of the question is easy: human resource departments run background checks on applicants and employees as a means of learning more information about those people. Often, it is difficult for a hiring manager to discover everything there is to learn about a person from a resume, a job application, or an interview, and a background check provides additional facts that can hold sway on a hiring decision. Investigations into an applicant’s background can also tell a human resources department whether or not the person is a good fit with the company in question, or even whether the applicant might pose a threat to the company’s employees, customers, and overall reputation.

But what information obtained in a background investigation can human resource departments use to reject an employee? Here are six common examples.

1. Criminal history: Perhaps the most common reason for background-related employment disqualification, criminal history is something that virtually all employers take very seriously. While organizations like the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) have worked to discourage employers from simply rejecting every applicant with a criminal conviction on his or her record, the fact remains that employers focus heavily on criminal history when it comes to pre-employment background checks. If an applicant has a history of felony convictions, one or two violent criminal offenses, or a clear pattern of criminal activity, those can all be seen as very valid reasons for HR departments to reject the applicant.

2. Trouble with past employers: This is a big one. No employer is excited to take on an applicant who has had documented difficulties with past bosses or co-workers. Few things can make an applicant look worse than a former boss who can’t provide a positive recommendation or who actively criticizes the applicant in question as being insubordinate or not working well as part of a team. Similarly, an applicant who speaks ill of former employers in a job interview raises a red flag for the hiring manager, as it marks the applicant as someone not afraid to disrespect superiors. In general, any negative issues involving past jobs or bosses can be a big background problem for an applicant, and can easily result in a lost job opportunity.

3. Application or resume inaccuracies: Background checks aren’t run simply with the goal of uncovering criminal history and rooting out potentially dangerous applicants. On the contrary, in addition to wanting to know about criminal history, human resource representatives want to find out whether or not prospective employees have been dishonest in any way throughout the job interview process.

As a result, most pre-employment background checks will include thorough perusals of an applicant’s professional and educational history. Any inaccurate resume or application information, be it an embellished job title, a fabricated college degree, or an invalid professional license, can serve as ground for immediate application rejection. Not only do employers not want to hire someone who is willing to lie to them, but the revelation that an applicant doesn’t have the educational or professional experience he or she claimed may also remove the things that made that applicant interesting and competitive in the first place.

4. Poor credit history: Some pre-employment background checks will include a check of the applicant’s credit history. Credit reports give a portrait of a person’s financial history and of how that person handles money in general, which can in turn help companies make assumptions about whether or not an applicant is responsible or trustworthy.

Since credit report findings can be so entirely skewed by certain factors (such as extensive college loans or hefty home mortgage payments), the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) has established certain guidelines and regulations that employers must pay attention to when using credit report information to make employment decisions. However, for jobs in the financial industry – or jobs that require the handling or monitoring of money – a spotty credit history can make a difference in whether or not an applicant receives serious employment consideration. For positions such as these, employers need to find a person who they can absolutely trust with their company’s funds, and most employers aren’t ready to place that trust in someone with an apparent history of mismanaging their own funds.

5. Social media interactions: Businesses that run social media background checks are, admittedly, on thin ice. The EEOC doesn’t like social media checks because they can so easily expose information that employers are not supposed to know (such as race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and gender identification) because knowledge of such information can lead to bias or outright discrimination in the hiring process. Still, many companies utilize social media checks to see how their employees or prospective employees are behaving outside of work. Studies have shown that young people are most affected by this kind of background check, with everything from inappropriate photographs (depicting drug use, binge drinking, vandalism, or other elicit activities) to profanity-laced comments resulting in disqualification from job consideration.

6. Driving history: Similarly to credit history, an applicant’s driving history won’t always be a huge matter of consideration among HR reps. However, if the job in question demands the operation of a motor vehicle – whether in a factory scenario or out on highways and county roads – you can bet that the employer will want to make sure that their applicants don’t have histories of drunk driving, reckless driving, or other vehicular offences. A driving history background check might also be taken into account for jobs that would require a good deal of commuting or travel. In such cases, a poor driving record can be something that human resource directors use to justify rejecting a job hunter’s application.

About the author:

Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.

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