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The Ultimate Guide To Adjudication And Background Checks

Illustration of a person on a laptop reviewing background results as part of adjudication process.

Background check adjudication standardizes the process of background check review so you can assess candidates’ background check results efficiently, fairly, and compliantly.

This article explains what background check adjudication is, how it works, how it benefits employers, and how to develop background check adjudication guidelines for your company.

Employee background checks are an essential part of the hiring process for most companies. However, a poorly implemented or noncompliant background check process is time-consuming and inefficient, slows time-to-hire and delays onboarding, and could even lead to costly fines, lawsuits, or settlements. That’s where background check adjudication can help. 

By standardizing the background check review process, background adjudication makes reviewing and assessing candidates’ background check results faster, fairer, more efficient, more consistent, and more compliant. 

This article will explain what background check adjudication is and how it works, how a consistent adjudication process can benefit employers, and how to develop background check adjudication guidelines for your company. 

What Is Adjudication?

Adjudication is the process of evaluating the results of a job candidate’s background check against your company’s employment screening policy to help filter out candidates who may not meet your hiring guidelines. 

By identifying candidates with relevant offenses, adjudication allows you to quickly filter out job applicants whose specific criminal histories disqualify them from the job.

For example, suppose a background check for a delivery driver job applicant shows she was recently convicted of driving under the influence. Depending on your company’s policy, that may prohibit her from being hired for the driver position. Adjudication allows you to spot this and filter her out of the list of qualified candidates. 

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Why Do Employers Need An Adjudication Process?

Developing a process for adjudicating background checks has several benefits for employers.


Background check adjudication can streamline hiring by enabling companies to employ consistent standards to identify unsuitable job candidates and focus on qualified applicants. This saves time and money, especially in large organizations that do high-volume hiring. 


Some industries are regulated, and these regulations may dictate that certain criminal offenses are disqualifying for certain positions. These industries may include childcare, healthcare, and elderly care, or any organization that serves vulnerable populations. Establishing a background check adjudication process can help these companies comply with industry regulations. 


The process of adjudication can also help ensure that employers apply their company hiring guidelines to all applicants equally. Guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires that job applications be screened consistently, with the same standards applied to every applicant for the same position. 

By standardizing the way your company reviews background check results, adjudication helps to prevent hiring managers and other decision-makers from making one-off decisions that reflect their own individual biases, rather than company policy, which may reduce the likelihood of a discrimination claim. 

Consistency across locations

Background adjudication is especially important for employers with locations in multiple states, as state background check laws vary in terms of what information can be reported on a background screening report. For example, fair hiring or “ban-the-box” laws in 36 states and over 150 cities and counties nationwide restrict employers from asking candidates about criminal history on a job application. 

Ban-the-box and fair hiring laws may forbid employers from considering non-convictions or convictions not directly relevant to the job in question, or from using a conviction alone as a reason not to hire a candidate. Adjudication can help employers comply with these fair hiring rules. For example, employers can set their adjudication rules so that they do not consider convictions that are not relevant to the job. 


Finally, background adjudication provides clear documentation of how decisions in the hiring process were made. Having this information on record can help defend your company against legal action.

Types of Adjudication Processes

Employers typically handle the adjudication process for background checks in one of two ways. 

Manual Adjudication

In the manual adjudication method, employers compare the results of background checks against their lists of hiring criteria. This often involves using a screening matrix or spreadsheet to sort candidates—disqualifying some, moving others along in the hiring process, and identifying those who need further investigation.

Manual background adjudication puts this process in the hands of employers, who, after all, are the best suited to decide which candidates meet their hiring standards. However, managing the entire process manually is time-consuming, eating into time better spent on higher-value activities. The lengthy process also delays onboarding, which could leave your business short-handed.

Manual adjudication also introduces a greater possibility of human error, compounded by states, counties and cities that may report the same criminal offense differently. Busy hiring managers may even forget to start the adverse action process for disqualified candidates.

Finally, unconscious bias may creep into the hiring process when manual background adjudication is used. At best, this could mean missing out on a potentially outstanding hire. At worst, it could mean a discriminatory hiring lawsuit. 

Adjudication in the screening process is an important step, and while manual adjudication might seem like a good way to reduce hiring expenses, when you consider the labor and risks involved, it can actually be very costly. 

Automated Adjudication

Some third-party background screening providers offer adjudication as an additional service. A screening provider that automates much of the process can eliminate many of the challenges and weaknesses of manual adjudication. 

Of course, you cannot completely automate your adjudication process, nor would you want to. Automated adjudication doesn’t free you from ultimate responsibility for whom you hire and reject. 

Human oversight is still necessary to ensure accuracy and to assess the results that the automated process delivers. For example, some jurisdictions require a specific, individualized assessment of the background check be completed as part of the adverse action process. 

However, automated adjudication can eliminate the need for tedious manual review to clear or flag job applicants according to your adjudication guidelines. This gives your HR team more time to spend on the individualized reviews needed to establish relevance and context for an offense. 

A good automated adjudication solution lets you customize filters to fit your company’s needs and comply with state and local laws and industry regulations. This means you can focus on the information that matters most to your business. 

Automated solutions can use the status and adjudication rules you select to set up automated workflows, streamlining the hiring process. For instance, GoodHire’s automated adjudication solutions will automatically send out pre-adverse action notices and final adverse action notices to keep your company in compliance, where such automation is allowed by law. 

Setting filters and automating workflows can also help eliminate hiring bias, reducing the possibility that preconceived notions or human prejudices will affect your hiring process.

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Tips For Creating Adjudication Guidelines

The specifics of your adjudication process will vary depending on your industry, location, and the positions for which you’re hiring. It’s important to set up this process correctly in order to ensure you are following the relevant laws and industry guidance. 

The following best practices will help you design background check adjudication guidelines tailored for your business. Be sure to work with your business’s legal counsel when determining background check policies.

First, develop policies for categorizing different offenses or findings of the background screening. Which findings will eliminate a candidate from consideration for a given role? 

If your business is in a highly regulated industry, such as childcare or health care, this decision may be made for you by law. For example, state and/or federal laws may prohibit a home health agency from hiring a caregiver whose background check shows he has abused or neglected patients.

In other situations, you have more flexibility to set your own parameters, but must take into account federal, state, and local laws. List possible findings for all the key areas your background check covers, such as the national sex offender list, national and state criminal records search, and motor vehicle records (MVR) search. Your filters should also consider factors such as the age and severity of the offense.

Set up filters for specific jobs reflecting what background check findings are critical to the job and which can be filtered out. 

  • For example, if a candidate for a bookkeeping job has a traffic violation, it’s probably not relevant to the job duties. 
  • For someone seeking a delivery driver job, however, the traffic violation might be relevant depending on the severity and age of the offense. 

Determine what adjudication result is needed for candidates to move to the next stage of consideration. For example, you might categorize applicants this way:

  • “Pass” if there are no conflicts in their background check
  • “Pending” if further investigation is needed
  • “File adverse action” if the adjudication uncovers an offense that disqualifies the candidate 

Also decide what action you will take for each outcome. For instance:

  • Passing candidates will go to the next step of the hiring process
  • Pending candidates may be contacted to get further information
  • Rejected candidates must receive pre-adverse action letters 

Be careful when making employment decisions based on offenses that may be more common among certain demographic groups. If you automatically filter out candidates with a specific type of criminal conviction, for instance, you could be disadvantaging people of a certain race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. These are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a blanket ban on certain types of records that disparately impacts candidates in a particular protected class could trigger lawsuits. 

Find The Best Adjudication Process For Your Company 

Reviewing job candidates’ background screening results for potentially disqualifying offenses is key to building a team you can trust while keeping your business in compliance with state, local, and federal hiring laws. But conducting background check adjudication manually can be labor-intensive, prone to errors, and subject to human bias that can unintentionally result in unfair hiring. 

An automated adjudication solution that can be customized to your company’s employment screening policy saves time and ensures you are following your policy. The result: A hiring process that’s faster, easier, and fairer to all applicants while protecting your business from litigation. 

Using an accredited consumer reporting agency (CRA) such as GoodHire for your employment screening program can provide you peace of mind, while also improving screening program performance and efficiency. GoodHire’s Advanced Decisioning features include filtering and automated adjudication to help ensure you are applying background screening rules consistently, and keep you in compliance with company policies and best practices. 

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

author karen axelton

Karen Axelton is a Southern California-based freelance writer specializing in business topics.