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What Is the Difference Between Criminal Record and Background Checks?

As most people would assume, background checks will often have some kind of criminal record screening as part of the process. However, not all background checks include a criminal record screening and not all criminal record screenings are conducted as part of a background check. They are commonly done in conjunction with each other, but are not the same thing and have distinct functionalities for businesses and organisations looking to screen potential employees.

A criminal record check is a very useful tool when conducting a broad-based screening on job applicants, but not critical. Although, it is safe to say that the best vetting systems available to employers and business owners will include a criminal record assessment. So, the question is not whether they are the same thing, but rather: how do they differ and how do they work together?

What Is a Criminal Record Check?

A criminal record check is a specific type of screening that investigates a job – or other – applicant’s past to ensure there is no criminal activity that would dissuade their hire or approval. Criminal histories can be screened at the national, provincial or local level; covering a wide range of illegal or illicit activity. They can uncover misdemeanours, arrests, pending court cases, felonies, convictions, active warrants, incarceration and even traffic violations.

This is not an infallible system and some criminal record checks might miss certain aspects of a candidate’s history. For example, some misdemeanours do not appear on your criminal record in South Africa and juvenile criminal histories may be expunged as that person enters adulthood. A criminal record check is a distinct, but important, part of a larger and more comprehensive background check.

What Is a Background Check?

Background checks are intended to verify the history, activities and qualifications of a person that is applying for a job, educational qualification, loan, purchase, credit, entry into a country and many others. Although this term is used more generally, a comprehensive “background check” should include a variety of screenings, evaluations and reports to ensure that all relevant aspects of an applicant’s past are verifiable.

This also means looking for the information that they do not tell you. Job applicants, for example, may try to hide certain parts of their personal, professional or educational history, in order to try and secure the position. What an effective background check will entail depends on the scope and intention of the company, organisation or individual requiring the check.

The screening processes that make up a comprehensive background check often include:

  • Credit Reports
  • Identity and ID Verification
  • Motor Vehicle Records
  • Drug Screenings
  • Social Media Activity
  • Reference Checks
  • Academic Qualifications
  • Employment History
  • SARS and Tax Verification
  • And Criminal Record Checks
What Is the Difference?

There are other, less common, screenings available for companies and organisations looking to conduct background checks, but these are the most prevalent screening tools used. Comprehensive background checks report on key indicators that determine the reliability and veracity of the information being provided in an application. This is a general term that can encompass any number of these screening methods, including criminal record checks.

Criminal record checks are one of the most important and informative parts of a background check. The screening processes used to assess a job – or other – applicant is not set in stone. Background checks are variable and user-determined, while criminal background checks are a less variable process that usually report the same information. Employers do not always use criminal histories as key indicators, but when they do, it always makes their background checks more comprehensive and effective.

MarisIT have extensive experience in designing and running background checks for South African businesses, organisations and individuals. Our comprehensive screening and vetting services help ensure that you find the right applicants for the job. To learn more about the verification services, criminal record checks and employee background checks we offer, contact MarisIT today.

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