Once you have completed the initial selection process and chosen a potential new employee, there are some checks that you may want to make - or may be required to make - before making an unconditional job offer.
Some checks are optional, for example, checking a potential employee's qualifications or checking references however best practice suggests that these checks are advisable. Other checks are a legal requirement - for example, you are required to ensure that all your workers are entitled to be in the UK and take up the job in question.
If someone hasn't got the qualification(s) they claim and their work subsequently damages a client, issues of negligence in law can arise. Certain professions, such as in law, medicine or accountancy, require specific qualifications to practice. For example, a nurse in a care home would need to be suitably qualified.
For other roles - such as those involving work with vulnerable individuals or jobs within the security industry - you may be required by law to obtain an AccessNI check on the potential employee.
This guide covers essential pre-employment checks that must be carried out for both UK and foreign nationals. It also provides links to more detailed guidance elsewhere on this site about pre-employment checking services and the data protection requirements you must comply with.
Advantages of pre-employment checks
Pre-employment checks are an important part of the recruitment process.
They help you to:
- comply with the law by ensuring the employee has permission to work - and remain - in the UK and has not been barred from carrying out the job - eg for roles working with vulnerable groups or holding the position of director
- check that the potential employee is suitably qualified or skilled for the job
- assess whether the potential employee is suitable for the job - eg for roles working with vulnerable groups or security roles
- check that the employee is able to carry out the job - though you must ensure you do not discriminate in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995
Types of checks
There are a range of checks you can make, some of which are compulsory and others which may be desirable. The type of checks that can be carried out include:
- identity checks - see pre-employment checks: identity checks
- AccessNI disclosures - see pre-employment checks: applying for a criminal records check
- evidence of the right to work and remain in the UK - pre-employment checks: ensuring candidates are eligible to work in the UK
- references - see pre-employment checks: checking references
- qualifications - see pre-employment checks: checking qualifications
- health - see pre-employment checks: health checks
You must ensure your checks are not discriminatory (for example, a health check that discriminates against disabled people and is not necessary for the job) and do not discourage people from applying for the job. For more guidance, see how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
You can make any job offer conditional on the outcome of pre-employment checks.
A conditional job offer does not become a binding employment contract until both parties have agreed to it and can be withdrawn if the conditions are not met. See withdrawing job offers where checks are not satisfactory.
You should carry out your checks as quickly as possible once a conditional offer has been made.
The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) provides protective security advice. This is for companies and organisations that deliver the UK's essential services.
Pre-employment checks: identity checks
The first check you should make is to confirm the identity of the candidate and establish that their identity is genuine.
You should not undertake any other checks until you are satisfied that the candidate is who they claim to be.
How to check a person's identity
You can check a person's identity by:
- requesting original copies of documents - such as passports, birth certificates and driving licences
- asking for copies of documents that confirm that the person lives where they claim they do - eg by providing a recent bank statement or utility bill with their name and address on
- requesting a Certificate of Registration, or a Biometric Residence Permit, and/or immigration documents where relevant
- using a commercial online database checking service
Whilst these checks can prove that an identity exists, they cannot prove that the identity rightfully belongs to the person using it. You should back up any electronic check by obtaining original documents to support the claim.
The HM Passport Office has introduced a number of measures to help employers check for identity fraud.
Pre-employment checks: checking references
Although not compulsory, it is advisable to check a potential employee's references.
You can do this in writing or by telephone at any point during the recruitment process. Some candidates will prefer you not to check their references until they have been offered the job, and you should seek their consent before any referees are contacted.
Except for certain employers in the financial services sector, employers are not obliged to give references. The easiest way to obtain references is in writing. You could ask:
- when and for how long the candidate was employed
- what their job title and main duties were
- how many days of sick leave they took, but be mindful of disabilities which could affect an employee's level of sickness absence
- whether they were subject to disciplinary action - and if so - why
- whether they were reliable, honest and hardworking
- if there are any reasons why they should not be employed
Extra detail can be revealed by telephoning the referee. It is advisable to write to the referee first so they expect your call and have time to prepare.
If you have any doubts about whether a reference is genuine, you should ring back to check the referee's identity.
Are references confidential?
Generally, employees do not have the right to ask their employer to see a job reference that the employer has written about them which has been given in confidence. However, they may be able to gain access to it from the person the reference is sent to, so you should not assume a reference will stay confidential.
Individuals may also be able to access notes made about them during a telephone reference as well as any notes you make during and after their interview.
Pre-employment checks: checking qualifications
As well as looking at references, you should also check the applicant's qualifications, especially when the qualification is essential to the position you want to fill. In some professions, applicants must be in possession of specific qualifications before they can practice.
You can check qualifications by asking to see the candidate's certificates. Alternatively, you can check with the awarding bodies or use one of the checking services.
The Council for Curriculum Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) has details of the qualifications it accredits. Information is also available about the competence and performance levels they are based on. Read CCEA guidance on qualifications.
The UK National Academic Recognition Information Centre (UK NARIC) can help you compare overseas qualifications with UK equivalents. Compare overseas academic qualifications (registration required).
Pre-employment checks: health checks
You may wish to include health checks as part of your recruitment process. A health questionnaire may ask about individual and family history and lifestyle. They can highlight potential problems requiring a follow up - eg by a medical examination.
Questions about disability and health during the recruitment process
You should take great care when asking about a job applicant's disability or health concerns. You should ensure that you seek this information for the right reasons and not in order to discriminate against disabled people.
The Equality Commission suggests giving job applicants the opportunity on an application form, or on a monitoring form, to indicate any relevant effects of a disability and to suggest any reasonable adjustments which may help them overcome any disadvantage in their potential workplace.
You have an obligation, under the Disability Discrimination Act, to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees or applicants at all stages of the recruitment, selection and employment process.
Asking a question about disability is not in itself discriminatory. However, your conduct following the candidate's response could lead an industrial tribunal to conclude that you have carried out a discriminatory act.
When to carry out pre-employment health checks
You should only complete pre-employment health checks:
- once you have offered the job to a particular person
- where any candidate - disabled or not - would be required to undergo testing to decide if they are fit to carry out the job
- where testing is needed to meet any legal requirement - eg eye tests for commercial vehicle drivers
- when you are sure you need this information and have policies in place to securely hold the information as required by the Data Protection Act, regardless of whether it is in paper or electronic form
The level of assessment will depend on the nature of the job and can range from simply checking the levels of absence in a previous job to a full health assessment.
If you are making a job offer conditional upon the candidate's fitness for the work, this should be stated clearly in the offer letter.
You must ensure you are not carrying out discriminatory practices in asking potential employees to pass a health check. Health checks - if required - should be carried out on all candidates to avoid unfairly discriminating against disabled candidates. For further guidance, see how to prevent discrimination and value diversity.
You may be required to pay a fee for a medical report from a candidate's GP. The candidate must give you their written consent before you request a medical report.
Candidates have the right to see the report and can request that it is amended or withheld from you. Even without the applicant seeing the report, the doctor must keep it for 21 days before sending it to the employer.
Alternatively, an employer may refer a prospective employee to occupational health. The employer must seek the employee's consent before referral and the employer should pay for the referral.
Pre-employment checks: applying for a criminal records check
You can apply for a criminal records check for the potential applicant from AccessNI. This is usually required when people are working regularly with children or vulnerable adults or, for example, as part of the taxi driver licensing regime in Northern Ireland. The Security Industry Authority also carries out a criminal record check on anyone who applies for a security licence.
It is important to ensure that a position is eligible for an AccessNI check before starting the process. Eligibility is governed by the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Exceptions) Order (Northern Ireland) 1979 (as amended). You should contact AccessNI if you are unsure whether a position is eligible for a check.
Criminal records checks should not be requested until a job offer is made, but you should make it clear, in writing, that the job offer is conditional upon a criminal records check.
There are three types of criminal records check - basic, standard and enhanced. Legislative provisions may require that either a Standard or Enhanced Disclosure is requested for someone commencing employment in certain sectors. The type of check you will need to make will depend on the work that is to be undertaken.
The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) helps employers in Northern Ireland make safer recruitment decisions. The main criminal record checks are now called a DBS check. A DBS check is only necessary for certain types of jobs involving vulnerable groups eg working with children, in healthcare, prisons and courts. The DBS was established in 2012 and carries out the functions previously undertaken by the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safegurding Authority. It is accessible through AccessNI.
For more information on each type of check, see AccessNI criminal records checks.
Once you have received your copy of the AccessNI disclosure certificate, you can assess whether the candidate is suitable for the job. An AccessNI disclosure will reveal previous convictions. Generally, under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, someone convicted of a criminal offence who does not receive any further convictions during 'the rehabilitation period' becomes a rehabilitated person. Their conviction is regarded as spent - therefore after a certain period of time, you should treat the person as if the conviction had not happened.
However, a conviction resulting in a prison sentence of more than two and a half years can never be spent.
A person must disclose all convictions - including spent ones - if the job offered falls into an exempted category according to the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) 1978, including:
- regular contact with children and vulnerable adults
- work as a barrister
- police work
- posts relating to the administration of justice or financial regulation
- posts involving national security
Whether the conviction is spent or unspent, you should carefully weigh a number of factors, including:
- how long ago the offence was committed
- the candidate's age at the time
- the relevance of the offence to the job offered
- the penalty awarded
- whether the offence was isolated or part of a pattern of offending
- what is known about the person's behaviour before and since
People should not be unfairly discriminated against due to past convictions. You should also give the candidate a chance to explain if a check reveals adverse information about them.
For details of your legal obligations when applying for AccessNI checks and using the sensitive personal information on a certificate see employing someone with a criminal record.
Pre-employment checks: ensuring candidates are eligible to work in the UK
Preventing illegal working - the checks you must make, who is eligible for work and who needs permission
Important: The rights and status of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK will remain the same until 30 June 2021. EU citizens and their families can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living and working in the UK.
A new immigration system applies to people arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021. EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need to get a visa in advance. Employers need a sponsor licence to hire most workers from outside the UK. See employing EU citizens in the UK.
All employers in the UK have a responsibility to stop illegal workers. You must therefore check the entitlement of everyone you plan to employ to work in the UK. Failure to do so may result in a civil penalty or criminal conviction.
Some people can currently work in the UK without restriction, including British citizens and nationals of most countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland.
Even if you think that a potential employee has the right to work in the UK, you should still make the necessary checks. You should ask candidates to provide evidence of their right to work in the UK by producing original copies of documents specified by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
For more information on checking an employee's eligibility, see ensuring your workers are eligible to work in the UK.
Employing someone who needs permission to work in the UK
You may need a sponsor licence to employ someone from outside the EEA and Switzerland to work for you in the UK.
For more information on checking an employee's eligibility, see ensuring your workers are eligible to work in the UK.
Withdrawing job offers where checks are not satisfactory
No contract of employment exists until a candidate has accepted an offer and all conditions under which the offer was made have been satisfied.
You can withdraw conditional job offers made subject to suitable references and criminal records checks, where the results are not as you expected.
If a candidate starts work before the results of checks have been received, you should make it clear that the offer may be withdrawn if the checks prove unsatisfactory - see pre-employment checks: checking references.
You may also wish to offer employment subject to a trial or probationary period. The length of the period may depend on the type of job and how much time is needed to demonstrate the necessary skills.
If you decide to withdraw the offer at the end of the period, you need to give the employee the notice period specified in their written statement and follow the statutory dismissal procedure in terminating their employment. It's also highly advisable to explain clearly why the offer is being withdrawn to avoid potential legal claims, eg for discrimination.
If no notice period has been agreed, they are entitled to the statutory minimum notice period, or to any longer period which is the established custom or practice within the industry.
An alternative to withdrawing an offer is to extend the probationary period - if the contract allows - and to provide appropriate training.
Employees cannot claim unfair dismissal before completing one year's service unless it is for a number of automatically unfair reasons. Read more on dismissing employees.
However, an employee dismissed during - or at - the completion of their probationary period may be able to claim breach of contract if - for example - you have not provided training that you promised would be given.
Pre-employment checks: data protection issues
The Data Protection Act 2018 applies to personal information - data about living, identified or identifiable individuals, including information such as names and addresses, bank details, and opinions expressed about an individual.
There are six data protection principles. Information should be:
- lawfulness, fairness and transparency - you must process personal data that you collect on individuals in a lawful, fair and transparent manner
- purpose limitation - you must only collect personal data for a specific, explicit and legitimate purpose and you must clearly state what this purpose is and only hold the data for as long as necessary to complete that purpose
- data minimisation - you must ensure that personal data you process is adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to your processing purpose
- accuracy - you must take every reasonable step to update or remove data that is inaccurate or incomplete and individuals have the right to request that you erase or rectify erroneous data that relates to them
- storage limitation - you must delete personal data when you no longer need it and timescales are dependent on your business' circumstances and the reasons why you collect this data
- integrity and confidentiality - you must keep personal data safe and protected against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage
The use of sensitive information - including information that might be disclosed during a criminal records check - is more tightly controlled. For further information, see ICO guidance on criminal offence data.
Guidelines to follow
There are some guidelines you should keep in mind in relation to pre-employment checks.
- only carry out checks which are necessary
- think carefully about the best point in the process to carry out the different checks
- where possible, only check the successful applicant
- let applicants know what checks will be made and how they will be carried out
- make sure that checks are carried out for a specific purpose
- only use sources which will reveal relevant information
- only rely on information that comes from sources you trust
- give the candidate the chance to explain if a check reveals adverse information about them
- if a third party is to be involved in the process - eg a previous employer not listed as a referee - let the applicant know
Any information you gather in the process of making your pre-employment checks must be kept securely and confidentially. Any information gathered must not be kept for longer than is needed for its legitimate purpose.
The candidate has the right to ask to see any information you hold on them which you must supply within one month of receiving the request. This information will be provided free of charge, however, where requests are manifestly unfounded or excessive you can charge a reasonable fee for the administrative costs of providing the information.