An HR professional’s guide to pre employment checks



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12 mins


In the modern business landscape, where competition is fierce and organisational success hinges upon assembling the right team, the role of HR (human resources) and HR software has evolved into a strategic cornerstone. One of HR professionals’ most critical compliance tasks is conducting thorough pre-employment checks – which is not only crucial for legal compliance, but also for building a capable and reliable workforce.

These checks go beyond just verifying basic credentials. They are a vital component of risk management, ensuring that new hires align with company values, possess the required skills, and have a clean background. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the intricacies of pre-employment checks, providing HR professionals with valuable insights and practical tips to navigate this essential process effectively.

What are pre employment checks?

Pre-employment checks, often referred to as background checks or pre-screening, are a crucial set of procedures conducted by employers to evaluate the suitability of potential candidates before making a final hiring decision. These checks take place through the HR and recruitment software during the recruitment process, and are designed to verify the accuracy of information provided by applicants, assess their qualifications, and uncover any potential red flags that might impact their performance, behaviour, or eligibility for a particular position. While pre-employment checks vary in scope and intensity depending on the nature of the job and industry, they typically encompass elements such as:

  • Right to work checks
  • Criminal history
  • Education verification
  • Employment history
  • Reference checks
  • Credit history (if relevant)
  • Professional licenses or certifications

Primarily aimed at ensuring the integrity and reliability of new hires, pre-employment checks serve the interests of both employers and job seekers. For employers, these checks mitigate the risks associated with negligent hiring, help maintain a safe and secure work environment, protect company assets, and enhance overall workforce quality. Candidates also benefit, as pre-employment checks foster transparency and contribute towards a fair evaluation process. These checks ultimately help employers build a workforce that’s characterised by professionalism, trustworthiness, and competency.

Pre-employment checks are typically integrated into the recruitment process at a specific stage, usually following the initial screening of CVs and applications – but, sometimes, after an offer has been made. When to conduct pre-employment checks (and which ones to conduct) depend on if your organisation is bound by any legislative requirements that it needs to comply with, and, typically, the type of role, and the seniority of the candidate.

Why should your organisation carry out pre employment checks?

Embracing the practice of pre-employment checks offers an array of compelling benefits for your organisation and overall operational excellence. Firstly, pre-employment checks play a pivotal role in ensuring that candidates are an appropriate choice for the designated role – right to work checks, for example, ensure they are legally authorised to work in the UK. These checks help safeguard your organisation against potential legal repercussions stemming from hiring ineligible candidates, thereby promoting compliance with employment law and upholding the integrity of your workforce.

Beyond legal considerations, pre-employment checks act as a crucial mechanism to validate the accuracy of the information provided by candidates during the application process. Verifying personal and professional details such as educational credentials, employment history, and certifications mitigates the risk of misrepresentation and guarantees that you’re selecting individuals who possess the skills and experience necessary to excel in their roles. This verification process ensures only the most qualified and credible candidates progress further in the selection process and are hired. 

Research by the CIPD has found each new hire your organisation makes costs between £8,000 and £12,000 (comprising in-house resourcing time, advertising costs, and agency or search fees). And there’s also the cost of potential reputational damage, as well as any possible financial fraud or fines to factor in. All this risk can be mitigated thanks to pre-employment checks that might cost just a few hundred pounds per person.

Data protection considerations for your organisation

The 2018 Data Protection Act (DPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) affect how your organisation can gather, store and use data. Your HR activities are also impacted by these laws, including the collection and storage of recruitment data and employee records and references.

Your organisation must be able to prove employees have been informed of how their personal data will be used, and that they’ve received a clear explanation of how it’s treated. Your staff should consent freely to the processing and storage of their data. Recording employee and candidate data – including the output of pre-employment checks – in GDPR compliant HR software will help you secure this personal information. 

Struggling with GDPR compliance? Ciphr can help.


How long do pre employment checks take?

The duration of pre-employment checks can vary widely depending on factors such as the complexity of the checks, the efficiency of third-party verification services, and the specific requirements of an employer. On average, pre-employment checks typically take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to complete. Basic checks, such as criminal background checks or reference checks, might be completed within a few days. However, more extensive checks involving education verification, employment history, and additional credentials can extend the timeframe to a few weeks. It’s important for employers to strike a balance between conducting thorough checks and not unnecessarily prolonging the hiring process to ensure a timely and efficient recruitment process.

Five pre employment checks your organisation should be conducting

Here are five common pre-employment checks organisations conduct when hiring candidates.

1. Right to work checks

All employers have a legal responsibility to check if a candidate is allowed to work in the UK before you agree to employ them. Make sure you know what checks you need to conduct to confirm someone’s right to work in the UK, or you may be liable for a civil penalty. At time of writing, this penalty was £15,000 for a first offence, and £20,000 per breach for repeat offenders. These fines will rise in early 2024 to £45,000 for a first offence, and £60,000 per breach for repeat offenders. 

Employers who wish to introduce the digital right to work scheme and carry out right to work checks digitally and remotely on UK and Irish in-date passport holders will need to use an accredited Identity Service Provider (IDSP). The IDSP will need to meet Good Practice Guide 45 (GPG 45) Medium Level of Confidence (MLoC). Employers are no longer able to verify any right to work documents remotely over video call, and must either choose digital checks for eligible applicants or check documents in person. If using digital ID checks, an employer must confirm the candidate’s identity either via video call or in person after the check is completed, and before employment commences.  

Document validation doesn’t always go smoothly. To streamline this process, Ciphr has partnered with TrustID, who have achieved GPG 45 MLoC and are an IDSP certified for the right to work digital scheme. TrustID’s digital and non-digital checks also integrate seamlessly with Ciphr's HR and recruitment software

2. Criminal record checks

Criminal record checks in the UK are conducted by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), and include a search of the Police National Computer (PNC). Some or all of a person’s convictions will be stated on the certificate, depending on the level of check that’s requested. All checks expire as soon as they’re issued because they’re correct only at that point, so these should be updated frequently – many employers re-do checks every one or two years.

Basic DBS checks

A basic DBS check will show only unspent convictions. These checks can be requested by an employer or an individual, taking around 48 hours to be processed and about two weeks for the certificate to be received.

Standard DBS checks

A standard DBS check is required for specific job roles (for example, within financial services firms). This will go further into a person’s criminal record and, depending on the role, may show cautions or offences considered spent in other circumstances. The DBS will decide what to highlight on the certificate for each case, taking into account the crime, how long it’s been since it happened, and what’s needed for the job.

Enhanced DBS checks

An enhanced DBS check is the highest level of check for a person’s criminal background and, in addition to a standard check, includes any recorded details from the PNC that may be relevant to the role. This will usually take up to eight weeks to be returned. Types of sectors/jobs that require an enhanced check include:

  • Education (eg teachers)
  • Healthcare workers with direct unsupervised contact with vulnerable people
  • Childminders
  • Social workers

3. Employee health checks

There are only two circumstances in which you can ask a successful candidate for a health check before hiring them, which should be highlighted in the offer letter to your new starter:

  • If it’s a legal requirement (eg an eye test for commercial drivers)
  • If it’s required as part of the role (eg if your insurers need to conduct a health check on your cycle couriers)

In the 2010 Equality Act, section 60(1) highlights that employers can’t ask questions about health to a candidate before an employment offer – whether in person, by form, or through a third party (eg a previous employer). This is so organisations don’t make decisions based on a person’s physical or mental health, or any disability they may have.

Section 60(6) of the same Act states you can ask health or medical questions at this point to:

  • Establish if a candidate needs any reasonable adjustments during the assessment to remove any disadvantages
  • Find out if a function essential for the role can be done
  • Conduct applicant diversity monitoring
  • Take positive action for those with a disability
  • Evaluate if a person meets an occupational requirement to have a particular disability (eg if a charity for the blind wants a project to be led by someone with a visual impairment)

4. Qualification and reference checks 

If you’re recruiting for a position that requires specialised skills, such as a doctor or engineer, verifying your candidate's qualifications is a must. In some cases, this is to remain compliant with the law. In others, it's simply to be sure your applicant has the training needed to succeed in the role. 

If there’s any doubt in your mind an applicant’s qualifications aren’t legitimate, don’t worry. You can ask them to provide proof of any degrees and certificates mentioned in their CV. If they can’t – then you might want to reconsider the hire.  

You’ll also want to conduct reference checks. This’ll give you a deeper insight into your applicant's personality and what it’s like to work with them, as well as verify the accuracy of their work history claims. 

5. Social media and online presence checks 

Depending on the role your applicant will fulfil, you may want to check out their online and social media presence. For instance, if the position involves using personal accounts to share company content, a social media check can ensure their online presence reflects your organisation's values. However, we recommend exercising caution in making final recruitment decisions based solely on online content. It could be from ages ago, lack context or misrepresent the candidate. Ideally, use social media checks to confirm suitability. And if you find something unsavoury or confusing, provide candidates with the opportunity to explain their posts. 


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Common challenges when conducting pre employment checks

Conducting pre-employment checks is an indispensable component of the hiring process, yet it can come with its fair share of challenges and complexities, including:

  • Maintaining timeliness while adhering to thoroughness – this is especially challenging in industries like retail or hospitality, where high turnover rates can strain resources and impact business operations due to the volume of checks needed
  • Effective data storage and management – organisations face the intricate task of securely storing sensitive candidate information while tracking multiple checks
  • Staying abreast of and compliant with evolving legislation – employment laws and data protection regulations can undergo rapid changes, impacting the permissible scope and methodology of pre-employment checks

Luckily, HR software such as Ciphr can mitigate these challenges.

Pre employment checks made simple with Ciphr

By automating pre-employment checks through our employee background checking system, you can speed up the entire process without forgoing thoroughness – with human error removed, no steps will be accidentally missed or completed incorrectly. The system automatically initiates specified checks and invites applicants to supply relevant information.

Ciphr’s solution is integrated with services from TrustID and Experian so identity documents, completed background checks and other sensitive candidate information and data are stored securely and easily accessible. Not only that, checks for existing employees can be set up to recur automatically, ensuring your organisation remains compliant with regulations and, if relevant, helping you to compile your single central record

Other benefits include:

  • A status dashboard, allowing you to easily see the progress of pre-employment checks you have initiated 
  • A full electronic, secure and auditable history of checks requested and completed
  • A great experience for candidates and employees – for example, individuals can complete checks via mobile

If you’re ready to see how Ciphr can help your organisation, book a demo or download our brochure today.


This article was first published in September 2023. It was updated for freshness, clarity and accuracy in April 2024.