One of the easiest ways of protecting yourself when hiring workers is to use a standardized employment application and an approved list of hiring questions. Make sure that the documents you use have been approved by competent legal counsel; many off-the-shelf or Internet/consultants' forms are outdated and badly written.

Each question on your “approved” list should have a valid purpose as part of the hiring process. If not, take the question off the list.

You should prohibit any applicant from volunteering information of a personal nature that is unrelated to the hiring criteria. This can prevent the applicant deliberately turning an interview in the wrong direction, then claiming that he or she was discriminated against as a result.

Consider adding a bold statement to your hiring application, such as “Any applicant who provides unrequested information will automatically be rejected.” This can prevent the frequent efforts of some applicants to “salt” an application by writing additional comments on it such as “member of the XYZ coalition in college.” Such notations may seem harmless, but the applicant might claim that that was the reason he or she wasn't hired.

Also consider running background checks for:

  • Safety-related jobs — drivers, installers, anyone using heavy equipment
  • Sales representative positions — since they will be dealing in the home with your customers, usually alone and unsupervised
  • Anyone who will have access to your finances — personnel in your accounting department, for example
  • Proper background pre-screening is usually conducted by outside agencies called “consumer reporting agencies.” The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act governs pre-screening obtained from these agencies. This law sets out various requirements and rules for pre-employment background reports, including a number of disclosures that must be given to a job applicant before you perform the background check and before you take any action as a result of the information you receive.

    We don't suggest using an Internet search firm when running background checks. Consider a national or local company with good credentials; the slight extra cost will be worth the peace of mind. — D.S. Berenson is the Washington, D.C., managing partner of Johanson Berenson LLP (, a national law firm specializing in the representation of contractors and the home improvement industry. 703.759.1055;

    This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.