Hiring can be dangerous; pizza restaurant employers know that letting the wrong person slip through the cracks can lead to dire consequences. Background checks help mitigate this risk by evaluating various sources to confirm that a candidate is who they claim to be, and that who they claim to be is indeed fit for the position at hand.

Background checks have become a nearly universal practice—with 94% of American employers conducting them in some form or another—and with basic screening in place, a company may feel that the crisis has successfully been averted.

But there are other dangers, too. The process of hiring can consume substantial amounts of time and resources. Failing to identify unsuitable candidates in a timely manner will result in malinvestment, even if the candidate is never hired.

Related: How to manage pizzeria employees with bad attitudes

More concerning yet is the threat of litigation that results from negligence or malpractice in running background checks; over 5,500 separate lawsuits were filed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in 2022, according to WebRecon.

Yet hiring remains a top priority. As disconcerting as the stakes may be, properly carrying out background checks is a necessary and ultimately rewarding effort. The good news, of course, is that no one is truly in the dark; every mistake has already been made, and today’s restaurateurs need only to avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors. For that reason, the three most common errors that companies make when running background checks are discussed below.

No. 1: Breaking the Law
Litigation is by far the greatest concern for any employer looking to execute a background check. Employers should ensure full understanding of and compliance with federal, state, and local legislation long before even designing their policy (see no. 2), not to mention running an actual check.

It should be noted that there is no specific law mandating restaurants to conduct criminal background checks for hiring staff. But familiarizing oneself with applicable federal, state and local laws, such as “ban-the-box” laws, is critical.

One notable example is the increasing regulation surrounding the screening for marijuana use. With its changing legal status across various states, employers are often prohibited from rejecting a candidate based on a positive marijuana test unless the position is safety-sensitive or the use violates federal regulations.

Similarly, “ban-the-box” laws prohibit employers from asking about criminal history until a later stage in the hiring process in many jurisdictions. This allows candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before their past is considered.

Failure to understand and adhere to such legislation may expose a company to potential lawsuits, which can easily cost millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. When it comes to the law, due diligence is always due.

Related: Alex Koons’ 4 steps for interviewing potential pizzeria employees

No. 2: Being Inconsistent
Oftentimes, approaching the screening process on a case-by-case basis is the path of least resistance. While each position should be given unique consideration—such as the particular legislation for that field of work—improvisation will always land a company in deep water. Having a flexible, yet thorough, background check policy is imperative for this reason.

The greatest concern here, once more, is that lack of consistency increases the likelihood of legal negligence. Given the extremely high quick-service restaurant industry turnover rate of 144%, employers may tend to be inconsistent with their hiring processes as employees flood in and out of the business. Without a pre-decided policy, it is much easier for an employer to forget certain legal guidelines or restrictions that might otherwise be detailed in a well-prepared plan. Once such a policy has been created, staying aligned with the law is merely a matter of ensuring that it remains up to date.

Another serious concern is that an disorganized background check will always lack the efficiency of a carefully designed workflow. Organizing how screenings and communications, among other things, will take place ensures that a company’s background check does not waste resources. Companies must also have clear guidelines for documenting every step of this workflow so that there can be no ambiguity in the case of a lawsuit.

No. 3: Using Unclear Criteria
Finally, companies often try to quicken the screening process by passing all candidates through the same filter. This is a common occurrence among restaurants, especially with seasonal workers such as college students coming home to work for the summer.

The faults with such an approach, however, are obvious. Unclear criteria will consistently deny competent workers where parameters are too strict and allow unsuitable workers where parameters are too loose. When designing their policy, therefore, companies must set job-specific criteria.

The first criteria to consider are criminal backgrounds, because—yet again—the law must be considered first and foremost. Legislation will often regulate which workers can be employed in certain fields, such as working with children, based on criminal records. Beyond that, only certain offenses should be considered universally unacceptable. While a DUI charge may disqualify a delivery driver, for example, it should not necessarily do the same for a back-of-house cook.

Companies should then consider non-criminal criteria. These may consist of a range of items, from work experience and licensing to references and referrals. There is some flexibility here, and companies must decide for themselves where to set the bar for each position—something that may change with the job market. Businesses would do well to make such decisions moderately and never to stoop below their own pre-set standards.

Related: Michael Androw’s 5 tips for retaining good pizzeria employees

Bottom Line
The process of screening candidates for hire is not simple, even in the QSR industry. With legal and economic concerns around every corner, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. When taken into account, these mistakes can not only be carefully avoided but can guide a company in executing robust background checks that offer peace of mind and allow its workforce to prosper.

Jeff Ernste is chief sales and marketing officer with Minneapolis-based Orange Tree Employment Screening. For more than 30 years, Orange Tree has provided technology-enabled background screening, drug testing and occupational health services for clients nationwide. For more info, visit www.orangetreescreening.com.