Q: Can we do a background check on a 16-year-old we are considering hiring to do part-time IT work? He would have access to company records, including financial data. Would his signature on our background consent/authorization for be valid, or do we need a parent or guardian to sign?
A: A 16-year-old is a minor, under the age of legal consent, meaning he lacks the capacity to understand the consequences, terms, and obligations of a legal agreement or contract, and therefore cannot give legal consent to submit a background check.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act sets certain employer obligations and applicant/employee rights regarding information gathered through employment-related background checks. It applies to background checks for minors and all other applicants or employees.
Considering that your 16-year-old employee will have access to valuable company data, it seems prudent to do a background check. But lack of proper consent from a minor incapable of giving legal consent could trigger employer liability under the FCRA. It would therefore be advisable to obtain consent from a parent or legal guardian.
Before proceeding, however, it is also advisable to examine what data a background check is likely to uncover for a minor, even with parental consent.
Most minors' criminal records, other than those related to serious criminal matters where the minor was prosecuted as an adult, are sealed and most likely unavailable.
Credit history would probably be nonexistent, since most minors cannot obtain credit of any significance.
Educational and employment history are the most likely to yield useful information.
Remember, even though the information likely to turn up may be minimal, don't even consider shortcutting the process of required consent from a legally competent person on behalf of the minor.
And if negative information is obtained leading to a decision not to hire, be sure to follow the mandated FCRA notice and disclosure requirements, including giving to both the minor and parent or guardian the pre-adverse decision notice permitting an opportunity to correct the negative information.