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Everything You Need to Know About Hong Kong Background Checks

Get the complete guide to Hong Kong background checks: legality, best practices, applicability, challenges, and solution.
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Hong Kong’s flourishing economy ranks it among the best work destinations worldwide but this comes with strings attached. How do you as an employer ensure that you pick out the right candidates from a large number of hopefuls? No matter how good resumes and interviews are, they cannot provide a complete picture. This is where Hong Kong background checks come in to fill this gap, enabling you to make informed choices on safeguarding your business and selecting the right person for the job.

What is a Background Check?

Background check is a procedure that reviews and verifies the information provided by a candidate during their hiring process. It often involves going through different records and databases to obtain information about a person’s educational background, work experience, creditworthiness, criminal records, and other related aspects. Employers often conduct background screenings before they bring recruits on board as a way of having accurate information about a candidate and thereby assessing potential hiring risks. The scope and depth of background checks may differ based on their purpose, job role, industry, and other factors. One of the mandatory steps is to obtain informed consent from the candidate in line with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO).

Are Background Checks Legal in Hong Kong?

The answer is YES! Hong Kong background checks are legal on both contractual and permanent employees. Only the extent and types of checks may differ as per the requirements of a particular job role. However, before conducting any kind of background check, employers must take into consideration the data privacy guidelines of Hong Kong. Also, explicit consent of the candidate has to be taken before initiating any kind of check. These are some of the bare minimums that demand due attention from employers.

Common Challenges Involved in the Background Check Industry

Though there are several benefits of conducting background checks, it is not easy to ensure safe hiring! Many challenges often make it difficult. Some of those challenges are;

  • Long Turnaround Time (TAT): Hiring the right people is a tedious job. Adding background checks to that often makes it a lengthy process. Post-selection, If the verification process takes longer than expected, it can frustrate both employers who are eager to fill the position and candidates waiting to hear back.
  • No local support:  Many background screening companies do not have offices in all regions where they operate. Such situations may make it difficult for employers to receive timely assistance with particular issues or queries that may arise during this process.
  • Poor experience (candidate & employer): The background check process itself can be a roadblock for both employers and candidates.  Employers, on the one hand, struggle with understanding reports and meeting compliance requirements while candidates, on the other hand, experience frustrations caused by non-transparency or delays in taking background checks.

Background Checks & Their Applicability

ChecksCoverage (Information Included)IndustriesRoles
Employment HistoryDates of employment, job title, salary, reason for leaving (with consent)All IndustriesJunior and mid level roles
Educational CertificatesConfirmation of degrees, diplomas, and attendance , authenticity of the certificateAll IndustriesAll requiring relevant qualifications
Reference ChecksContacting references provided by the candidate, typically including the candidate's supervisor for; job role, reason for employment ending any notable achievements or accomplishments, ratings on specific areas like work quality, performance, skills, experience, and teamwork abilitiesAll IndustriesJunior and mid level roles
Criminal ChecksCovering crime, fraud, financial crime, sexual conviction recordsAll Industries. But some industries emphasis more on this check; Regulated industries i.e. banking finance & FinTech, insurance & InsurTech, virtual assets, social welfare, educational institutionsRoles requiring security clearance
Civil Litigation RecordsPublicly available information on the legal nature of disputes (including the rights and obligations at stake) in which the candidate was involved, along with their role in the lawsuit (plaintiff/defendant/respondent). Examples include: debt recovery claims for compensation/possession of property, infringement of intellectual property rights (e.g., copyright)All IndustriesParticularly emphasized on senior executives / sensitive roles
Credit CheckPersonal information that applies to credit accounts such as the name, identity documents, addresses, credit score or credit risk level, open credit account details such as the account type, the open date, outstanding balance, and account status, any closed credit account details, credit application inquiry informationRegulated Industries i.e. banking, finance & FinTech, insurance & InsurTech, virtual assetsRoles requiring financial responsibility
Financial Regulatory ChecksVerification of current professional licenses and certifications relevant to the role. Identification of the regulated activities the candidate is authorized to perform. Confirmation of the license validity period. Inquiry into any disciplinary actions taken by regulatory authorities or previous employers against the candidate related to their financial activities.Financial servicesSenior positions, roles requiring regulatory compliance
Insurance Regulatory CheckVerification of candidate's registration with the local insurance authority, including license number, type, and current statusInsurance/InsurTechRoles requiring specific licenses or certifications

Background Check Process in Hong Kong

  • Choosing an approach
    • In-house team: Build a dedicated team that will be in charge of background checks. This process requires the ability to gather, verify, and follow Hong Kong legal requirements.
    • Partnering with a third-party firm (recommended):
      • Experience and knowledge: They should have the knowledge of background checks at their fingertips, and should know which ones are the best official sites depending on what information is expected
      • Data privacy and compliance: They must prioritize data security and adhere to all relevant privacy laws to ensure that candidate information is handled securely.
      • Ability to conduct further research: They should have the resources and expertise to conduct deeper checks when necessary
  • Transparency and consent
    • Inform candidates: Make sure to inform the candidates in detail why you need to run a background check and the kind of information you might need in order to verify those.
    • Obtain written consent: Get the applicant’s explicit, written permission to proceed with the background check. This is in favor of both the parties involved and is also in line with data privacy regulations.
  • Data collection: Once you have the candidate’s consent, you need to collect all the information required to conduct the checks. This usually consists of:
    • Applicant’s name (in English and Traditional Chinese (Name in local language))
    • Date of birth
    • Hong Kong Identity Card (HKID) details
  • Conducting the checks: The scope of the background check depends on your needs and the position. Common checks include:
    • Verification of Employment History
    • Education Verification
    • Criminal Record Check
    • Civil Litigation Check
    • Directorship Checks (for senior positions) and so on…

The Added Value of  Background Checks

Conducting background checks is a responsible hiring practice as it works as a valuable tool to mitigate hiring risks and build a stronger and more reliable team. Here is how;

  • Ensuring a safe workplace: Employers have an inherent responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe and secure for everyone involved. Background checks can immensely help as they act as a valuable filter, ensuring only qualified and vetted candidates join the workforce. Because a single instance of misconduct or failure to adhere to workplace ethics can put everyone at risk.
  • Saving time & resources: Hiring the right candidate to fill a vacant position is always challenging and time-consuming. It takes a series of procedures to ensure that the right individual with the required skills is taken on board. By doing reference checks, companies can save their valuable time and resources. It also helps in significantly improving the employee retention rate, thereby avoiding repetitive hiring processes.
  • Preventing employee dishonesty: Work ethics and honesty is something that every employer looks for in their potential hires. Since background checks involve looking at the past conduct of a candidate, it provides the employers with a fair amount of idea about how the future conduct of a candidate would be and whether he/she would be able to maintain the level of honesty and integrity that an organisation demands.
  • Maintaining reputation: In today’s highly competitive market, maintaining a good reputation is extremely important for any organisation. One dishonest employee with fraudulent intent can malign a company’s hard-earned reputation. This is where the role of thorough background checks comes into play. As it can uncover any hidden fact about a candidate’s previous misconduct or criminal history and significantly reduces the chance of negative publicity.

Legal and Data Privacy Considerations for Conducting Hong Kong Background Checks

Now that we have a fair idea about the basics of background checks and their types, let us look into the legal considerations for conducting Hong Kong background checks. Like every other country, Hong Kong also has its own set of guidelines regarding personal data privacy and protection. 

  • Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO): PDPO regulates the collection, use, disclosure, and retention of personal data. It aims to protect an individual’s right to privacy. According to PDPO, employers must obtain explicit, informed, and written consent from the candidate before conducting Hong Kong background checks.
  • Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance (ROO): This ordinance safeguards individuals with previous convictions who have already served their sentences. Employers must ensure that they do not discriminate while making hiring decisions based on ‘Spent Conviction’. Refer to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance (Cap. 297) for more details.
  • Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO): It ensures the right to equal opportunity for people with disabilities. This means avoiding discriminatory practices and making reasonable accommodations when necessary to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to opportunities. For information about the DDO, refer to the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (Cap. 487).
  • Anti-discriminatory laws: Hong Kong laws mandate intolerance to discrimination based on race, religion, caste, sex, or any similar grounds. Employers must adhere to these guidelines while making hiring decisions.

Note: Apart from these legal factors, there is one more thing to be taken into account by employers. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, and it recognizes Chinese and English as official languages. As a result, individuals may possess two names; one in Chinese and the other in English. When performing background checks in Hong Kong, employers have to search for both names.

Conclusion

In conclusion, background checks are extremely crucial to ensure a safer workplace and make an informed hiring decision – not only in Hong Kong but all over the world. Whether you are an employer looking for background verification service providers or an expert in the background screening industry, it is important to take note of the explicit consent, legal considerations, and norms involved in Hong Kong background checks. By doing this, it helps to safeguard the dignity of an individual’s rights and ensures that open, transparent, and accountable background searches are performed.

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