What Are Pre-Employment Checks? Tools & Processes Explained

Discussing Pre Employment Checks


Pre-employment checks are a crucial step in the recruitment process, ensuring that potential candidates are suitable for the roles they are applying for. However, just like the rest of the recruitment process, pre-employment screening can be time consuming, making it difficult for busy HR professionals to manage alongside their other tasks and responsibilities. 

We’ve put together this guide to pre-employment checks, giving you all the information you need to ensure that your processes are thorough yet efficient. We’ll also explore the tools that can help you to streamline these checks, including using an applicant tracking system to manage the end-to-end recruitment process for greater speed and accuracy. 

Let’s start off by looking at what pre-employment checks are, and why they’re important for your business. 

What are pre-employment checks?

Pre-employment checks involve verifying a candidate’s credentials, employment history and background to ensure their suitability for a role. Depending on the requirements of the position, this could include anything from requesting character references to running a criminal background check. Pre-employment screening helps employers to mitigate the risks associated with hiring, ensure the integrity of their workforce, and uphold legal compliance.

Why are pre-employment checks important?

Pre-employment checks are an essential part of the recruitment process, as they help employers to assess whether a candidate is suitable for the role they’re applying for. Character references from previous employers can provide insights into a person’s background, helping businesses to decide whether they share the organisation’s values, and whether they would be a suitable fit. 

Pre-employment screening also allows employers to meet their legal requirements, such as conducting right to work checks to ensure that the candidate is legally able to work in the UK. Roles involving children or other vulnerable individuals may require additional checks, such as DBS checks, to safeguard those that will be in an employee’s care. Ultimately, pre-employment checks help to ensure a safe, productive and compliant work environment. 

Legal requirements for pre-employment checks

There are several legal obligations for pre-employment checks for employers in the UK, which must be met to ensure compliance with the law.

Right to work checks 

One of the key requirements is checking an employee’s right to work, with a view to preventing illegal working in the UK. You can check their right to work status online, or examine their original documents to determine their eligibility. British or Irish citizens automatically have the right to work in the UK, while others must have a permit enabling them to work in the UK. Businesses employing illegal workers could face criminal and civil penalties, including a maximum fine of £60,000 per illegal worker.

Criminal record checks 

Criminal record checks are another essential part of pre-employment screening, and are a legal requirement for roles involving working with children or other vulnerable people. However, employers may find this information to be beneficial for making an informed recruitment decision, even if it’s not legally required for the position at hand. Organisations can request a criminal record check through the Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) in England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland in Scotland, or AccessNI in Northern Ireland.

Medical checks 

Section 60(1) of the Equality Act 2010 imposes a general rule that organisations are not allowed to ask candidates health questions before offering them employment. This is to prevent discrimination based on candidates’ physical health, mental health or disability, rather than focusing on their suitability for the position. However, there are some exceptions to this, such as where an employee wishes to determine whether the candidate can carry out a function that is essential to the role. The Government Equalities Office’s guide to questions about health and disability during recruitment is a great resource for more in-depth information about what you can and can’t ask.

Types of pre-employment checks

There are various different types of pre-employment checks, each covering an important aspect to ensure thorough vetting of candidates. 

Identification documents

Employers need to verify candidates’ identification documents to confirm their identity and eligibility to work in the UK. Since 1st October 2022, it’s been a legal requirement that employers perform identity checks on potential candidates, either by meeting them face-to-face or by using ID validation technology. These checks are necessary to ensure compliance, prevent identity fraud, and check that a candidate has the right to work in the UK.

Right to work in the UK checks

Verifying a candidate’s right to work in the UK is a legal requirement. Employers can check a candidate’s right to work online, or verify their original documents to make sure they’re legally allowed to work in the UK. This part of the pre-employment screening process helps to avoid illegal working, which could land an employer in serious legal trouble.

Criminal record checks

Conducting a criminal record check on a potential employee is essential, especially for roles involving vulnerable individuals or sensitive information. Depending on where they’re located, employers can contact Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS), Disclosure Scotland or AccessNI to assess a candidate’s criminal history. Criminal record checks aren’t a legal requirement for all roles, although it’s usually considered best practice to enable informed hiring decisions. For roles where it’s not essential, GDPR guidelines require that the employer be able to provide a lawful reason for the check, and that they are able to securely process the data.

Employment history and reference checks

This pre-employment screening step could involve requesting references from current or previous employers and should take place before making an offer of employment. While checking a candidate’s employment history isn’t required by law, apart from within the financial services sector, it offers an opportunity to gain a better understanding of their suitability for a role. For candidates that aren’t able to provide an employment reference, it’s considered good practice to accept an educational or character reference. This avoids putting the candidate at a disadvantage due to their employment background.

Online & social media checks

Employers may choose to use social media and the internet to research potential employees before offering them a position. This is an optional pre-employment check, although it may be enlightening, particularly for customer-facing roles, or those that deal with sensitive information. A survey by YouGov found that just under a fifth of employers chose not to hire a candidate because of their online activity, showing that there could be benefits to this check. However, these checks must be carried out in a controlled and compliant manner, using information that is publicly available through social media platforms.

Process of conducting pre-employment checks

The process of conducting pre-employment checks involves several key steps to ensure compliance and thoroughness. Let’s take a look at these steps in detail.

Requesting authorisation from the applicant

Current data protection legislation, including the GDPR and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), requires organisations to obtain explicit consent from candidates before conducting pre-employment checks. If an applicant refuses the pre-employment checks, you are not legally or ethically allowed to conduct them, and must base your hiring decisions on other factors. 

Employers must clearly communicate the types of checks involved, their purposes, and candidates’ rights regarding their data, including the right to withdraw consent at any time. Using a specific consent form that can be signed and dated by the candidate is a good option to ensure transparency and compliance.

Gathering necessary documents

Once written consent has been obtained, employers will need to gather the relevant documents to carry out the pre-employment screening. This may include photo identification, work permits, criminal record disclosures and more. Depending on the complexity of the checks, there may be a lot of paperwork and documentation to take care of. Implementing HR software with an applicant tracking system can help to streamline the process of collating and checking these documents.

Verifying information

Once you’ve gathered the essential documents, you need to thoroughly verify them to check that the candidate is who they say they are, and that their ID, permits and certifications are legitimate. This is an important step to ensure compliance and mitigate the legal risks associated with hiring. Using an applicant tracking system (ATS) can streamline identity verification for greater accuracy and efficiency, which is particularly important if you’re carrying out a large number of checks.

Maintain a record

Maintaining detailed records of the pre-employment checks you’ve carried out is essential for compliance with laws governing data protection, equal opportunities, employment and privacy. These records not only safeguard employers in case of disputes and support accountability, but also ensure consistency and fairness throughout the hiring process by providing a standardised approach to conducting pre-employment checks and making hiring decisions.

When in the recruitment process, should you carry out pre-employment checks?

As it can be quite time-consuming, the pre-employment screening process isn’t carried out for every applicant. In most cases, pre-employment checks aren’t made until after candidates have been interviewed. Employers may choose to conduct them before making a job offer. This means that, if something negative is brought to light, it’s easier to just move on to the next candidate. 

However, pre-employment checks are most commonly made after making a job offer, as this means that there’s only a single candidate to vet. This is the most time- and cost-effective option, but it could mean having to start over if the checks reveal an issue. When making a job offer, it’s best practice to clarify that the offer is conditional on the results of the pre-employment checks.

How long do pre-employment checks take?

How long it takes to carry out pre-employment checks varies depending on factors such as the types of checks required, the complexity of the verification processes, and the responsiveness of third-party agencies. Whether using automated processes or completing checks manually, it can be a time-consuming task, so it’s important to leave plenty of time for this step. Some checks may be completed swiftly, while other others, such as criminal record checks, may take longer due to bureaucratic procedures or backlog.

Can you withdraw a job offer after pre-employment checks?

Employers reserve the right to withdraw a job offer if their pre-employment checks reveal discrepancies or issues that affect a candidate’s suitability for the role. Reasons for withdrawing the offer include an applicant not holding the qualifications they claim to, not having the right to work in the UK, or if there is a conviction on their criminal record. 

It’s important to handle such situations with sensitivity and professionalism, and ensure that the candidate’s rights are upheld. An employee’s contract technically starts when they accept an unconditional job offer, so withdrawing the offer without reasonable grounds could be classed as a breach of contract. When making a job offer, it’s best practice to clarify that it is conditional and dependent on the results of the pre-employment screening. This can help to prevent complications should you wish to withdraw the offer in light of new information.

What tools can HR use to carry out pre-employment checks?

While pre-employment checks can be time consuming, there are various tools and technologies available that can streamline the process, enhancing efficiency and accuracy.

Manual checks

HR professionals can conduct manual checks to verify right to work, check references, assess qualifications, and review social media profiles. They can also request copies of any existing documentation that the candidate has, such as their passport, existing DBS certificate, or educational certificates. In most cases, original documents are required for these checks, which could mean arranging an in-person meeting or paying for tracked postage to return the documents safely. 

Manual pre-employment screening can be very time consuming, particularly if you need to carry out multiple checks for a single job role, or if your organisation regularly hires new employees. However, for small companies hiring for straightforward roles, or those lacking the budget to invest in HR tools, the manual process may be sufficient.

Government websites

Some pre-employment checks can be carried out on government websites. For example, you can ask the applicant to share a code that allows you to check their right to work online, or check their driving licence to make sure it’s valid, and whether they hold any penalty points or disqualifications. These tools help HR professionals to carry out some of the essential pre-employment screening steps, but don’t help to streamline or better manage the process.

Integrating an Applicant Tracking System into your workflow

Integrating applicant tracking software into your HR workflows can make the process of conducting pre-employment checks easier and more efficient. Using an ATS can help to reduce the manual workload by automating tasks, compiling candidate information into a single interface, and helping you to ensure compliance with your legal requirements as an employer. It also offers huge benefits for streamlining the entire recruitment process, helping you to improve time-to-hire without compromising on the quality of the candidates you invite to interview.

How to use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to save time and resources

There are many ways that an applicant tracking system can support the pre-employment checks and the wider hiring process, including: 

  • Automating time-consuming manual tasks 
  • Managing pre-employment checks 
  • Streamlining candidate shortlisting 
  • Improving the quality of new hires
  • Supporting informed hiring decisions
  • Enhancing the candidate experience 

PeopleHR offers comprehensive HR solutions tailored to your needs, helping you to better manage the entire recruitment process. From supporting pre-employment checks to streamlining the candidate shortlisting process, there are lots of benefits to implementing software within your HR department. 
If you're looking to streamline your hiring process, we’d be happy to help. Simply request a free demo and one of our experts will be able to guide you through the software and answer any questions you may have about its suitability for your needs.

Gareth Moss
By Gareth Moss New Business Sales Team Leader

Gareth Moss is a New Business Sales Team Leader with nearly a decade of experience in the Access PeopleHR product. Gareth specialises in serving those within the SMB market, and his passion lies in helping businesses streamline their HR operations. Before transitioning into his current role, Gareth was a HR software product trainer, making him your ‘go to’ guy for all things PeopleHR.