HR Management & Compliance, Recruiting

Can a 17-Year-Old Sign to Authorize a Background Check?

Background checks have become a fairly standard component of the hiring process. Most employers perform some form of background screening, though it varies in terms of how in-depth it is and what is covered. This can not only help the employer with decision-making but also ensure the employer uncovers potential issues.

Source: Antonio Guillem, shutterstock

For employers that hire anyone under the age of 18, however, it becomes an entirely different question. Generally speaking, a minor is not legally able to enter into any type of legally binding agreement or contract—but does an authorization for background screening fall under this umbrella?

In short, the answer is yes, it would. A background screening authorization form would constitute a legally binding agreement, and thus, a minor cannot legally give consent. As such, employers cannot simply conduct a background screening on a minor with the individual’s signed permission like they can for anyone 18 and older.

However, employers can get permission from the individual’s parent or legal guardian, but that’s where the next issue arises: There may not be much to screen for. Even if a minor has a legal record, juvenile records are often sealed and cannot be accessed. As such, employers may not uncover much through a criminal background check, unless the individual has a record in which they were deemed an adult for legal purposes (i.e., the person was tried and convicted as an adult, which is rare).

A minor is also less likely to have any type of credit history yet, which means it may not be worthwhile to run a credit check either. The main exception here is if the individual has any credit that was built with the help of a co-signer, such as getting a car loan with a parent. In such cases, the person may have a limited credit history.

That leaves two primary components that can be accessed: education and employment history. These can be useful, even if limited, to confirm a person’s skill and knowledge base and any experience he or she has. An employer could also contact personal references, which may be the primary form of additional background information available in these cases.

In summary, it’s not illegal to conduct a background check on a minor, but employers would typically need to get parental consent; however, the information obtained may not amount to much in most cases. Employers would be well served to create a policy for screening minors that still ensures they’re being screened for any potential issues given these restrictions. It would be useful to consult employment counsel on this issue.