The easy guide to employee background checks in Germany

Last Edited

July 21, 2023

Hiring employees in Germany? Many employers, particularly those in the US and Canada, want to run background checks before onboarding a new employee to verify their new hire’s credentials and ensure the individual won’t pose a threat to the company. 

However, for global companies hiring employees in Germany, running a background check the way you would in, say, the United States isn’t permitted. To avoid running into legal issues, you need to know what’s allowed under Germany’s strict privacy rules, as well as how to navigate Germany’s notoriously cumbersome bureaucracy. 

If you’re seeking a guide to running comprehensive and legally compliant employee background checks in Germany, look no further. You’ve come to the right place.

Are you legally required to run background screenings on German employees?

While it’s not mandatory for private companies to run background checks on employees in Germany, most German employers like to know who they’re hiring before they onboard the new team member. And actually, German laws are pretty vague when it comes to whether or not you should run a background check and exactly what information can be collected.

Instead, Germany emphasizes two things.

  • The first is employee consent: Employers in Germany must obtain the explicit consent of the employee to run a background check and can only request and check on information that’s relevant to the position. You cannot, for instance, use an employee’s personal data to look into their criminal background without informing them that this is necessary for the position and receiving their consent to do so.
  • The second is data security and privacy. You must make sure you’re in compliance with the strict standards set by the German Federal Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz), which governs the secure storage and processing of personal data in Germany. Particularly if you’re using third-party service providers, you need to make sure they have high-quality security systems in place to prevent any harm coming to an individual due to a data leak. You also need to be prepared to tell the employee exactly who the third-party service provider is and how the data is being stored.

Is it legal to run background checks on German contractors?

Yes, you can run background checks on German independent contractors, provided you have their informed consent.

What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on German employees and contractors?

In Germany, different types of background screenings can be conducted based on the new employee’s role. Below, we’ll discuss the most common types of screenings, as well as a few other things you might be asked to provide, depending on your role and industry.

Common background checks

Less common background checks

Education history

Credit reports

IEmployment historye

Social media profiles (depends on role)

Reference check

Criminal record (depends on role)

Work authorization

Financial records

Here’s each type of check in more detail:

  • Criminal background check. You can conduct a criminal background check to ensure your new employee will not put the company at risk or create an unsafe workplace for your other team members.
  • Employment history. In addition to a CV, you can reach out to your new hire’s previous employers to verify their dates of employment, salary, and reason for leaving.
  • Reference check. Generally, employers ask for two to three references from each potential candidate.
  • Work authorization. Especially if the new employee isn’t a German citizen, you should ask for proof they are authorized to work in Germany.
  • Education verification. Employers can verify a new hire’s education history by contacting colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. If the new hire requires a license to practice—for instance, if they’re a doctor or lawyer—ask for their consent to verify that their license is in good standing as well.
  • Credit reports and financial records. You may ask to see an employee’s credit reports and financial records if you work in the financial or banking industry.
  • Social media profiles. You can ask a new hire to provide their social media information, like their LinkedIn handle, to look at any public information they’ve posted. 

What types of background checks are illegal in Germany?

  • Under Germany’s General Equal Treatment Act, you are prohibited from discriminating against someone due to their race, age, sexual orientation, religion, and other protected characteristics.
  • Background checks run without informed consent from the new employee. It is against the law in Germany to run a background check without consent from the new hire. They must be made aware of your company’s background check policies, exactly what you’ll be looking into, and how their information will be used and stored. They can revoke consent at any time.

When should you conduct German employee background checks?

Generally, German employee background checks should be conducted as part of the pre-employment screening process. They typically occur after a conditional offer of employment has been made to a job applicant but before the employment contract is officially signed and the employee is onboarded.

Employers should also provide written notice to the job applicant that a background check will be conducted and obtain their written consent.

The easiest way to run a background check on a German employee or contractor

There are several different companies that can run background checks on employees in Germany, including Rippling, HireRight, and BackCheck.

Background check mistakes to avoid in Germany

  • Not getting employee consent. Germany’s privacy laws are extremely strict when it comes to employee consent. You cannot run a background check without written, informed consent from the new hire. You must also be upfront with candidates about what data they need to provide, who their data will be shared with, and why you’ll be conducting a check. 
  • Not storing their data securely. The latest version of the German Privacy Act adds a layer of regulations to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Data security falls under the purview of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, and it is taken extremely seriously by the German federal authorities. The regulations mandate companies designate a data protection officer (DPO) and provide specific rules about how data can be processed in the context of employment, among other topics. Be aware that the German Privacy Act is extremely specific and that general knowledge of data protection will not suffice: You either need to read and understand all the rules yourself or get someone who does to avoid legal ramifications.
  • Skipping the background check. Because of all the different rules and requirements, doing background checks on global hires can seem overwhelming—and it may be tempting to skip it altogether. But background checks are an important part of employee onboarding, and help protect you and your company.

Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Germany.

Frequently asked questions about background checks in Germany

Are background checks legal in Germany?

Background checks are legal in Germany, provided they are conducted in compliance with federal data protection laws. You may request any information from new hires that is relevant to their position and industry; what the German laws are strict about is getting the employee’s informed consent first. You must have their written consent to use their personal information for a background check and they can revoke their consent at any time.

What language do you use for background checks in Germany?

The official language of Germany is German, so employ the services of a skilled interpreter if you don’t speak German.

How do privacy laws affect background checks in Germany?

Germany’s privacy laws are extremely strict and bring additional regulations on top of those mandated by the EU’s GDPR. You must have a system in place that is secure and monitored by an appointed data protection officer (DPO) that will store employees’ information and keep it confidential. Businesses that do not comply with the privacy laws are financially penalized. Depending on the level of non-compliance, the fines levied could be as much as 20 million EUR. 

Do different industries in Germany require different background checks?

German laws permit different background checks for different industries. For instance, a doctor, lawyer, or accountant will likely be asked to provide a valid copy of their license to practice, while a banker or financial investment professional will be asked to provide copies of their credit reports and financial information. You can request any data as long as it is pertinent to the role.

What are the benefits of running background checks in Germany?

Background checks come with many benefits for employers, including:

  • Enhanced security. Background checks can help filter out job applicants who would pose a threat to the company or its employees.
  • Protection against negligent hiring. Companies can be held responsible for hiring employees who later engage in public misconduct. Background checks reveal past misconduct, helping mitigate this risk.
  • Better hiring quality. Background checks help filter out candidates with discrepancies or inconsistencies in their work or educational backgrounds. They verify that applicants are who they say they are, and that their stated qualifications are accurate.
  • Protection from occupational fraud. Background screenings protect your company's reputation by helping avoid dishonest and fraudulent job seekers.

Onboard new hires and run background checks with Rippling

With Rippling's Talent Management System, you can seamlessly onboard new hires and set them up for success. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling does the rest—including running a legally compliant background check, and e-verifying the results.

Ready to hit the ground running with every new hire? See Rippling today.

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: July 21, 2023

The Author

Carrie Stemke

A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, Carrie writes about HR trends and global workforce management and is the Rippling content team’s expert on hiring know-how in Western Europe.