woman interviewing man in office
It's important to know both the federal and state laws when it comes to performing background checks and drug tests. — Getty Images/FluxFactory

Pre-employment screening, also known as background or criminal background checks, and drug screening are two popular methods employers use to determine whether a candidate is a good fit for your team or a rotten apple.

However, there are certain restrictions on what you can do for both background and drug screenings. If you're interested in conducting background checks and drug testing your candidates, follow these steps to ensure you're following the law.

Steps to conducting a background check

There are a few steps you can follow to perform an accurate, efficient background check. Overall, the process involves gathering and verifying information. As you get more comfortable vetting new hires, you’ll know what signs to look for.

Check state laws

The first step you need to complete when it comes to establishing a new background check policy is understanding your state’s laws. This means doing research or speaking with a professional about how to gather information about your prospective employees. There are, for example, national standards for how employers should conduct background checks. While this is important, make sure you’re also considering your state’s individual laws as well.

Establish a formal policy

Before you begin a background check, outline the steps you’re going to take. You have to have a plan in mind when it comes to investigating future employees. It’s also important to have a formal process so every candidate is treated fairly. A typical background check policy can include education, a drug screening, credit check, criminal records and motor vehicle records.

Inform the individual

You should be telling your candidates about the background check during the interview process. Let them know it’s a routine part of your hiring process. There shouldn’t be any issues with you following through on learning more about them.

Consider outsourcing to professionals

In some instances, it may be difficult to obtain information or to fully understand certain situations. You may also just not have the time to do a proper background check on every new hire. Work with background check companies to outsource this service and focus on running your business.

Document your process

It’s important to have a paper trail that can be easily referenced when conducting a background check. If you approach the process in an organized manner, you’ll be able to reference documentation throughout your employees’ time at your company. This can also help other organizations with future background checks on a specific individual.

[Read: Employee Background Checks: What's Legal and What Do They Check]

Most employers test their employees right after they’re hired, with their job offer being contingent on a successful drug test.

Steps for effective drug testing

Developing a drug test policy is similar to coming up with a background check policy. It’s important to create a standard protocol that you follow every time you conduct a drug test. As with background checks, it may be worth it to work with a third-party company to outsource this process and ensure its legitimacy.

Review laws

There are federal drug test laws that you need to review before you start conducting drug tests. Make sure you take a look at federal and state policies before creating your own workplace drug test codes.

Establish a policy

After reviewing federal and state laws, determine what works best for your business and establish a formal policy. Decide when you’re going to test your employees and how. During this part of the process, it’s important to look into drug testing companies you can partner with. Most employers test their employees right after they’re hired, with their job offer being contingent on a successful drug test. Some employers conduct random drug testing or test employees after specific events, like workplace accidents. Consider your business’s situation and make a decision, then outline the protocol in a transparent way with your employees.

Conduct random drug test

Ongoing random drug testing will deter employees from using drugs and can diminish drug-related mistakes or accidents. They key is to follow your formal policy, select individuals at random and conduct the tests quickly after notification to prevent falsified tests.

Evaluate testing methods

Drug testing is usually conducted in one of three methods: urine samples, oral swabs or hair samples. Before selecting a method or third-party company, evaluate each method and determine how they may fit with your organization’s needs. If the primary purpose of your drug test is to screen candidates, hair testing provides a 90-day window of visibility into an individual’s drug history. Urine or oral testing, on the other hand, has a one-week window of detection making it more suitable for ongoing tests.

Match testing to job functions

Depending on your business’s industry, your drug testing requirements may differ depending on specific job functions within your organization. Employees in positions that include driving, operating heavy machinery, handling chemicals or administering medication are likely to have more stringent drug testing requirements than administrative roles. Identify positions within your company that may have strict federal, state or industry requirements versus positions with fewer restrictions and determine if different testing methods are needed.

Review results

Once you have a process in place, you can begin drug testing your candidates. The results of the tests, combined with the background check results, should be documented for future reference.

[Read: 3 Things You Need to Know About Background Checks]

Background checks and drug testing are an important part of running any small business. As with just about every other aspect of your business, if you approach these processes in an organized, informed fashion, your business will benefit.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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