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A Guide to Employee Background Checks in Ireland

Learn the steps of running employee background checks in Ireland, and enhance your candidate's hiring and screening process.

Michał Kowalewski
Written by Michał Kowalewski
April 5, 2024

Key takeaways

  1. Background checks are common in Ireland, especially for important positions. However, employers must obtain written consent from the candidate before starting the process, outlining the scope and purpose of the checks.
  2. Accessing medical records, conducting discriminatory checks (based on race, gender, etc.), or unrestricted social media screening are illegal or restricted in Ireland.
  3. Employers need to strictly follow the GDPR and Irish Data Protection Acts. This means collecting only job-relevant information and respecting candidate privacy throughout the background check. Violating data privacy laws during background checks can lead to significant fines.

Many companies in Ireland use background checks to hire trustworthy and qualified employees, especially in finance, healthcare, education, and technology. While not always required by law, these checks offer peace of mind for employers.

Ireland has a strong reputation for its talent pool. Over half (more than 56%) of 30-34 year olds in Ireland hold college degrees, exceeding the European Union average. This is likely due to Ireland's investment in education and focus on STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

With a booming tech sector, numerous multinational companies, and a thriving startup scene, Ireland's job market is competitive. Background checks can be a valuable tool in ensuring companies hire the best people for the job.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to run an effective and legal employment screening in Ireland
  • What are the common types of employee checks in Ireland
  • Step-by-step process of a thorough employee screening
  • What mistakes to avoid when performing a background check in Ireland

What should employers know before running background checks in Ireland

An employee background check is the process of verifying a potential hire’s work history, education, professional qualifications, and any criminal records they might have. It’s particularly beneficial to run before finalizing an employment offer or signing a contract, ensuring the candidate meets the company's standards and requirements. 

In Ireland, employee background checks are governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the Data Protection Acts 1988–2018, while the Data Protection Commission (DPC) oversees the adherence to these laws.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): The GDPR is a broader European Union regulation that complements the Irish Data Protection Acts. It strengthens individual privacy rights and sets stricter requirements for organizations handling personal data. For background checks, the GDPR reinforces the need for clear justification and data minimization, meaning employers should only collect information strictly relevant to the job role
  • Data Protection Acts 1988-2018: These national laws in Ireland establish the legal framework for data protection. They outline principles like transparency, fairness, and purpose limitation, ensuring personal data is collected and processed lawfully. In the context of background checks, these acts emphasize the need for informed consent from candidates before processing their information
  • Data Protection Commission (DPC): The DPC is Ireland's independent supervisory authority responsible for upholding the right to data privacy. It plays a critical role in enforcing both the Data Protection Acts and the GDPR within Ireland. The DPC has the power to investigate complaints, issue fines for non-compliance, and guide organizations on data protection best practices.

Are background checks legal in Ireland?

Yes, background checks are legal in Ireland, provided they are conducted within the framework of the Data Protection Acts and GDPR

Employers must have a legitimate reason for conducting these checks and must obtain explicit, informed consent from the job applicant. It is also essential to limit the scope of the checks to information directly relevant to the job role. Additionally, while it’s not specified in the law, written consent is recommended for documentation and compliance purposes. 

What types of background checks are illegal in Ireland?

Certain practices and types of background checks in Ireland are restricted or considered illegal. Global employers running employemen screening should stay clear of: 

  • Medical records check: Accessing a candidate's medical records without their explicit consent is strictly prohibited. Employers cannot request or require medical information during the background check process
  • Discriminatory checks: Any checks that could lead to discrimination based on protected characteristics are illegal. This includes checks into a candidate's gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or political views
  • Financial history (with exceptions) checks: Generally, checking an applicant's credit history is not allowed. However, an exception might be made for very senior positions with significant financial responsibility (e.g., CFO). Even then, obtaining clear justification and transparency with the candidate is obligatory
  • Unrestricted social media scrutiny: While not explicitly prohibited, social media screening requires caution. Employers should not make hiring decisions based on a candidate's personal social media activity. If social media review is deemed necessary, it's best to obtain written consent and focus on job-related aspects, not personal life

Violating data privacy laws during employee background checks in Ireland can lead to serious legal consequence due to strict adherence to the GDPR and local data protection laws.

GDPR has a two-tier system fine system for dealing with such infringements. 

For less serious violations, like failing to be transparent about the background check process, companies could be fined up to €10 million or 2% of their global annual revenue from the preceding financial year, whichever is higher.

More serious infractions, such as conducting checks without explicit consent or inadequate data security measures, could lead to fines of up to €20 million or 4% of the company's global annual revenue from the previous fiscal year, whichever is greater.

The Irish Data Protection Commission enforces these fines and has a reputation for strict enforcement of data privacy regulations. While the DPC hasn't publicly disclosed specific background check-related fines, it has issued substantial fines for other GDPR violations, highlighting its commitment to data protection.

Common background check industries in Ireland

In Ireland, many types of jobs need to check the backgrounds of people they want to hire. This is to make sure they are hiring good and trustworthy people. Some of the main job areas where these checks happen a lot include:

  • Finance: The finance industry deals with large volumes of sensitive financial data and money transactions, making trustworthiness and integrity key traits for employees. Background checks in this sector often include credit history, to prevent fraud and ensure that employees can be trusted with confidential financial information
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, the paramount concern is patient safety and care quality. Background checks ensure that healthcare professionals have the necessary qualifications, certifications, and a clean history free of malpractice. This is crucial in maintaining the high standards required for patient care and safety in medical environments
  • Education: The safety of children and young people is of utmost importance in the education sector. Teachers, staff, and even volunteers are often required to undergo background checks to ensure they have no history that would pose a risk to children. This includes criminal record checks and sometimes checks against child protection databases
  • Technology: The tech industry is highly innovative and competitive, with significant intellectual property at stake. Background checks in this sector often focus on ensuring that employees have not been involved in intellectual property theft or corporate espionage. Companies also look for a history of reliable and ethical behavior in handling sensitive or proprietary information
  • Transportation and logistics: For roles involving driving, delivery, or logistics, companies conduct background checks to ensure employees have clean driving records and no history of DUI or other traffic violations. This is important for safety on the roads and reliability in delivering goods and services

Types of employee background checks in Ireland

Effective employment screening in Ireland covers essential aspects to evaluate a candidate's abilities. Knowing these areas helps employers tailor screening processes to meet job requirements and legal standards.

Type of Check Common in Ireland Reason
Criminal record check Common Ensuring that the candidate does not have a history of criminal behavior that could pose a risk to the company or its employees
Employment history  Common Verification of the accuracy of the candidate's work history and claims on their resume
Educational verification Common Confirmation that the candidate has the qualifications they claim, ensuring they meet the job's educational requirements
Reference checks Common Gaining insights into the candidate's work ethic, skills, and behavior from previous employers or colleagues
Credit history Rare    Used for roles that require financial responsibility to assess the candidate's financial reliability and risk of fraud. (Note: This is highly regulated and often requires the candidate's consent)
Social media screening Less common To understand the candidate's public persona and ensure it aligns with the company's values. (Note: This must be conducted with respect to privacy laws and ethical considerations)
International background Depends on the industry For candidates who have lived, worked, or studied abroad, to ensure a comprehensive background check that includes foreign records
Driving record Role-specific For roles that involve driving or vehicle operation, to ensure the candidate has a clean driving record and is a responsible driver

Background check mistakes to avoid in Ireland

Whether you’re hiring employees or contractors in Ireland, there are a few things you shouldn’t do as an employer when it comes to background checks:

  • Ignoring consent: Get written consent upfront explaining the background check, the data collected, and its purpose. This avoids legal issues and protects candidate privacy
  • Overreaching: Focus on job-relevant checks like employment verification and education confirmation (with consent). Avoid irrelevant information that could violate data privacy regulations
  • Neglecting data protection laws: Ignoring GDPR and Irish Data Protection Acts can lead to hefty fines and reputational damage. Ensure strong data security, collect only necessary information, and maintain clear data retention policies
  • Failing to provide feedback: If negative information arises, provide the candidate a chance to explain before making a final decision. This ensures a fair and transparent hiring process

Step-by-step guide to employee background checks in Ireland

Global employers looking to recruit talent in Ireland should treat this list of steps as a guideline that will help ensure legal, effective, and thorough employee background checks.

  1. Obtain consent: Start by obtaining explicit consent from the candidate, outlining the scope and purpose of the background check
  2. Verify Identity: Verify the candidate's identity using government-issued documents.
  3. Check employment history: Contact previous employers to verify positions held and durations of employment
  4. Verify educational background: Verify academic credentials directly with the institutions.
  5. Check criminal record: Conduct a criminal record check through the Garda Vetting Service, where relevant to the job role
  6. Check credit history: For financially sensitive positions, a credit check may be conducted with the candidate's consent
  7. Check references: Contact provided references to gain insights into the candidate's abilities and character
  8. Screen social media: With consent, review public social media profiles for any potential red flags
  9. Check regulations: For regulated industries, verify the candidate's standing with the relevant regulatory bodies.
  10. Check compliance: Ensure all collected information complies with the Data Protection Acts and GDPR

You can also automate this process using Deel, and get a fast employee background check, with results coming in a matter of minutes.

We've had a great experience onboarding our global employees through Deel. The background check integration/add-on made this process even smoother, and it was helpful to get the reassurance that all steps of onboarding, including the background check would be completed in time to get our employees on board by their projected start date.

Jennifer Larimore, Director of Human Resources and Recruiting, Bluleadz

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