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January 6, 2017

Great Reasons to Conduct Pre-Employment Background Checks

By John Bocker, NSSF Security Consultant Team Member

As an FFL, employee background checks can be considered an essential component of your store’s overall security planning. Even the most basic checks will likely provide the big red flags that can tip you off to a potentially dangerous hire, and with today’s internet-based providers, the cost of performing these checks is now often quite manageable. Let’s look at why you should consider adding this component to your hiring processes.

Why Should You Conduct Background Checks?

When it comes to safety, employers have an obligation under OSHA to provide a safe workplace, one that is free of known hazards, and that includes security risks. It can be easily argued that hiring an individual with violent tendencies, tendencies that could have been discovered with due diligence, would represent a disregard for that obligation. Such an operational failure can then present serious liability risks if other employees, vendors and customers are subsequently victimized. For these reasons, many employers opt to perform at least a criminal background check on potential employees before finalizing any offer of employment.

FFLs should take particular note of this because it is stipulated by ATF that prohibited individuals are not allowed to handle or sell firearms under any circumstances. Similarly, if such a prohibited individual causes harm to anyone, such as a customer or vendor, the employer may be liable if there was an opportunity to learn about this tendency, such as the existence of a public criminal record.

Security is another concern, especially for FFLs where most if not all employees have access to firearms and ammunition. A security background check is critical to ensuring your prospective employee has not had any prior arrests or convictions for property crimes including larceny, burglary or robbery. Many retail theft and robbery investigations show that “insiders” have often assisted in the execution or planning of such crimes.

When it comes to security background checks, consider, too, that most employees are hired will manage cash, and many will be making decisions that affect the company’s profitability or reputation. For any individual hired in these roles, employers should consider doing a background check that confirms the individual does not have a history of fraud, negligence or theft.

How Do I Conduct a Background Check?

Checklist - Great Reasons to Conduct Pre-Employment Background ChecksTechnically, calling references and prior employers listed on an employment application is a form of background screening, and this should be your first step with any potential new hire. Though listed references are rarely going to be anything but positive affirmations of a potential hire’s capabilities — no one puts down a reference they didn’t get along with and who wouldn’t ordinarily say good things about them — as an employer, what you’re trying to gauge what the potential employee is like to work with and will they likely be a good fit with your other employees and customers. Still, making these contacts can also be done to try to uncover any fabrications or exaggerations on the application, résumé or during the interview. Remember to use your good senses and also validate the reference itself.

Beyond resume references, your next step will be criminal and financial background checks, or a combination of both, these checks performed by service providers outside your company. Keep in mind that there are limits to what you as an employer can and should discover and use. For example:

  • Credit and background checks require employee consent. Without consent, such checks can be illegal. Use a reputable service or consult legal counsel and get advance permission before conducting background screenings.
  • If you use an employee’s credit rating in the hiring process, you must be sure there is a legitimate business purpose for doing so. Lower credit scores disproportionately affect some individuals, including displaced workers, recent immigrants with little or no credit history and others affected by unplanned bankruptcy. Eliminating a potential hire on that basis alone can create a discriminatory hiring dispute. Even with a legitimate business purpose, the employer must also be sure to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) rules.
  • Background checks can inadvertently turn up information that discloses a person’s inclusion in a protected class. Even if this information is not used in the hiring process, it is risky for an employer to have such information at this stage because it raises the possibility of a discrimination claim. For this reason, many employers use third-party services to conduct background checks, with those services turning over only information that is relevant to the hiring process.
  • There are many federal, state and local laws that limit the type of information an employer can seek out, so be sure to consult your attorney knowledgeable of these regulations.
  • Background screenings must be relevant to the job. For example, there is probably no need to get a driving record for someone who will not be driving for the company.
  • Be consistent in how you conduct your background checks. For instance, it’s okay to conduct background screenings on a group of applicants after they’ve made your “short list,” but it’s definitely not okay to conduct background checks only on minorities or immigrants.
  • When something of concern is uncovered during a background screening, consider giving the applicant the opportunity to share more information about the situation. While you still need to be consistent in how the situation is handled, it’s possible there’s a mistake that can be rectified or there are extenuating circumstances that change the view of the situation. Of course, if you’re going to give the opportunity for explanations, be consistent and offer this opportunity every time a particular situation arises. Consider, too you may not or should not make hiring decisions based solely on arrest records. An arrest is not the same as a conviction as all individuals in the United States are “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law.
  • Never use NICS for anything besides a firearms transfer accompanied by a Form 4473. Per 28, C.F.R. §25.11 of the NICS Regulations, accessing or using the NICS, or permitting access to or use of the NICS by another, for any unauthorized purpose is a violation of federal law, sanctions for which may include criminal prosecution, a civil fine not to exceed $10,000, and/or cancellation of the NICS inquiry privileges.
  • Hold background check results close to the vest and share on a “need to know” basis only. All relevant records should also be maintained in secure, confidential files.

NSSF’s Store Security Audit team can help you assess the need for background checks and how to conduct them during their day-long, in-store consultation visit. For more information, visit the Retailers section of the site. NSSF also partners with a variety of vendors, including one that provides background checks, to provide products and services at discount to its members. Log in to the members-only side of to discover more.

Read more about NSSF Retail Strategies


About the Author
John Bocker is an NSSF Security Consultant Team Member and the Managing Director at JB Group, LLC, based in Denver, Colorado. JB Group is a business security and integrity strategy consultant organization specializing in maximizing profitability, risk management, employee integrity, operational controls. Visit or call (720) 514-0609 for more information.

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