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Guide to global background screening

Caroline Smith, VP, Deputy General Counsel at HireRight, discusses why you need to think globally and act locally when rolling out a global screening programme.

It is a common misconception that creating a consistent global screening programme simply means conducting the same checks in every single country or region that you are hiring in, and/or for every different role type in your business – this is often not the case!

Each region, country, state, city, or territory may have their own data privacy laws impacting what is and isn’t permissible during pre-employment background checks. Here are a few things to consider when you are looking to roll out a global background screening programme:

Understanding Local Laws and Restrictions
While in many countries, a wide range of common background screening checks – such as criminal, identity, employment, education, and credit checks – are widely available and legally permissible, in certain locations this is not the case.

There are consolidated privacy laws in most commercial hub locations such as Singapore, Europe (including the EU and the UK), China, and Australia. We are also seeing new consolidated privacy laws in emerging markets such as India and Thailand. These laws would seem to provide clear guardrails about what can and cannot be checked, however, underlying all these laws is the concept of relevancy and proportionality, which underpins what constitutes fair and lawful processing.

This means that as well as considering if a check is available and legally permissible, employers must consider if the check is relevant and proportionate in context of the role into which the candidate is to be hired and the specific risk profile of the sector vertical of the entity and its own risk profile. This can be challenging. To give some examples, in Singapore, an adverse media search is available and legally permissible, but it should only be conducted where the risks inherent in the role justify the same. This analysis is equally applicable to global sanctions checks in locations such as Poland.

In terms of purely legal restrictions, some checks are not available due to restrictions imposed on the gathering and processing of data points that would be required to drive accurate checks. For example, it is not permitted for employers to collect or process an individual’s resident registration number (RRN) in South Korea. This means that it is not possible to use government sources to conduct criminal checks, however, the hiring organisation may still require a check to assess the hiring risks that would ordinarily be picked up in a criminal check.

Many countries around the world do not have federal data privacy legislation – including, of course, the U.S. This can make background screening more difficult, as candidates from different states or cities within the same country may have different laws impacting how their background screening process takes place, what information they can be asked for, or which checks are permitted. Ban-the-Box laws, pay equity legislation, and cannabis accommodation laws are just three examples that employers hiring in the U.S. must navigate as part of their screening programme.

In other locations, in addition to federal law, there may be territorial or provincial laws to consider, which may have additional requirements for businesses to adhere to. For example, in Canada – specifically, in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario – there are provincial laws that have additional requirements, such as disclosures to the candidates regarding the scope of the background checks.

By working with a knowledgeable background screening company that understands these local nuances, alternative checks can be identified and used to manage these risks – for example, a conduct check.

Challenging Checks
There are several factors that may impact the complexity of a background check. In places like the Philippines and India, the absence of digitised organised records means a lot of searches are more manual, which can expose businesses to additional risk due to losing a piece of the process. This also, unavoidably, increases turnaround times during the screening process.

Screening in the Philippines can also be a challenge due to the local naming conventions – there is a similar issue throughout Latin America. Filipinos have four names, two of which are their surname. When a woman marries, she loses her first surname, her second surname becomes her first surname, and her husband’s surname becomes her second surname. So, the identifiers you collect become extremely important to ensure that you can match the individual to the correct records.

Cultural Considerations
Attitudes to screening vary from location to location. While it may be standard practice in some countries – in particular, the U.S. – in other regions, background screening is still an emerging practice. As such, in addition to the myriad local laws that may impact a global screening programme, there are cultural considerations to make when looking to expand your screening programme overseas.

For example, in Japan, checks such as address checks should be carefully considered, and are often omitted. In some districts of Tokyo and Osaka, underworld gangs are known to be present, so if your candidate’s address is in one of those districts, there could be an inherent prejudice against them.

To help build out a global screening programme which is consistent for your candidates all around the world, businesses would benefit from partnering with a screening provider who can provide detailed, location-specific compliance guidance and support – not only around the laws currently in place, but also new legislation that may impact screening in the near future.

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