The easy guide to employee background checks in Hong Kong


Jul 27, 2023

There’s a unique sense of confidence that comes from knowing you’ve made the right hire. But getting to that point requires careful steps and due diligence. Especially when you’re hiring in a new region, such as Hong Kong, one of those crucial steps is the employee background check. These checks can seem like a daunting task, particularly given Hong Kong’s strict privacy laws, but they're indispensable tools in your hiring process. They help verify an applicant's history, mitigating potential risks, and even the fallout from high-profile cases where companies failed to handle background check data properly.

Are you legally required to run background checks on Hong Kong employees?

In Hong Kong, while there is no overarching law that mandates pre-employment background checks for every job, it's crucial to note that specific sectors make these checks customary or even legally required. For instance, if you're hiring for positions within the education, finance, or security sectors, you will typically need to conduct background checks. This is to ensure that the individuals in these positions, which often involve a high degree of trust and significant responsibilities, are suitable for their roles.

Moreover, even when not required by law, conducting a background check can serve as an essential part of your hiring process. It provides you, the employer, with an extra layer of protection against potential risks. After all, hiring is a significant investment, and the last thing you want is to onboard someone only to discover they've been less than truthful about their credentials.

Lastly, even though background checks are valuable, they should always be conducted with respect for candidates' privacy rights. Hong Kong has strict privacy laws, so you need to ensure your background checks are compliant with these regulations. For instance, you must obtain explicit consent from the candidate before initiating any check and adhere to the guidelines of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance of Hong Kong. This attention to legal adherence will ensure your background checks are not just effective but also respectful and ethical.

Is it legal to run background checks on Hong Kong contractors?

Yes, it is legal to run background checks on contractors in Hong Kong. The same data protection and privacy laws apply whether you’re dealing with an employee or a contractor. However, the necessity and extent of the background check may differ based on the nature and duration of the contract.

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

In Hong Kong, businesses commonly run several types of background checks on prospective employees and contractors. These checks provide critical insights into a candidate's suitability for a role. They include:

  • Criminal Records Check: This check reveals any criminal offenses in a candidate's past. In Hong Kong, this is often known as a "Certificate of No Criminal Conviction" provided by the Hong Kong Police Force.
  • Employment Verification: Employers verify the accuracy of a candidate's employment history, including job titles, start and end dates, and reasons for leaving previous positions.
  • Education Verification: This check involves contacting educational institutions to confirm a candidate's academic qualifications.
  • Reference Check: A potential employer reaches out to a candidate's provided references to learn more about their character and work ethic.
  • Directorship Check: This type of check, essential for higher-level positions, verifies whether a candidate holds directorships in other companies.

Less common but still valuable checks include credit history checks, particularly important for finance-related roles, and social media checks to gauge a candidate's online presence and reputation.

What types of background checks are illegal in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong's laws protect individual privacy rights, prohibiting certain types of background checks, including:

  • Conducting a background check without the explicit consent of the candidate
  • Discriminatory checks or decisions based on the candidate's race, sex, disability, family status, or pregnancy
  • Making decisions based on spent convictions, as per the Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance

When should you conduct Hong Kong employee background checks?

In Hong Kong, employee background checks are usually conducted during the pre-employment screening process, typically after a conditional job offer has been made. This conditional job offer means that the offer of employment is subject to the successful completion of the background check.

Employers in Hong Kong should always provide written notice to the job applicant, informing them that a background check will be conducted. Additionally, they must obtain the applicant's explicit, written consent before initiating any background check.

While Hong Kong doesn't have specific laws that prohibit screenings at certain points in the recruitment/onboarding process, it's important to ensure that all checks are conducted ethically, with respect for candidates' rights and privacy. In particular, employers should be mindful of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which outlines how personal data should be collected and used, including in the context of pre-employment screenings.

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

Several different companies can run background checks on employees in Hong Kong, including Rippling, eeVoices, D-Law, and CRS Checks. The easiest by far is Rippling because background checks are directly integrated into the onboarding flow. Just enter basic hiring info like salary and start date, and Rippling will send the offer letter and new hire paperwork—and automatically run a legally compliant background check and e-verify the results. See Rippling today.

Background check mistakes to avoid in Hong Kong

Running background checks in Hong Kong requires careful attention to a range of factors. Employers need to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Not obtaining explicit consent: The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance in Hong Kong stipulates that all employers must secure clear, informed, and voluntary consent from candidates in writing before initiating any form of background check. This includes providing adequate information about what the check involves, who will conduct it, and how the information will be used.
  • Ignoring data relevance: Employers should only collect and use data relevant to the job application and hiring decision. Gathering and storing irrelevant personal data, such as political affiliations, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, may infringe on the applicant's privacy rights and potentially result in legal repercussions.
  • Violating non-discrimination laws: Employers must refrain from using information gathered in a background check in a discriminatory manner. Hong Kong's Discrimination Ordinances prohibit discriminatory practices based on attributes like race, sex, disability, family status, or pregnancy.
  • Not respecting the Rehabilitation of Offenders Ordinance: Under this Hong Kong law, certain criminal convictions known as “spent” convictions cannot be used to disadvantage a candidate. A “spent” conviction is one that, due to the passage of a specified period of time, should not be considered during the hiring process. Employers need to respect this ordinance to ensure fair and lawful hiring practices.
  • Skipping the background check. Because of all the different rules and requirements, doing background checks on global hires can seem overwhelming and tedious—and it may be tempting to skip it altogether. But background checks are an important part of employee onboarding in Hong Kong, and help protect you and your company.

Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Hong Kong.

Frequently asked questions about background checks in Hong Kong

Are background checks legal in Hong Kong?

Yes, background checks are legal in Hong Kong. There are, however, privacy laws and regulations that need to be adhered to during the process. Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, employers must explicitly seek the candidate's written consent before conducting any form of background check. This requirement helps to maintain respect for individual privacy and to ensure that background checks are conducted transparently and responsibly.

What language do you use for background checks in Hong Kong?

Employee background checks in Hong Kong are primarily conducted in two languages - English and Chinese. These languages are officially recognized in the region and cater to a broad demographic. However, the chosen language or languages depend on the specific needs of the employer, the nature of the job, and the linguistic abilities of the candidate. Some checks might involve both languages, especially if the job requires proficiency in English and Chinese.

How do privacy laws affect background checks in Hong Kong?

The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance in Hong Kong plays a critical role in how background checks are conducted. This ordinance safeguards the privacy rights of individuals by dictating how personal data can be collected, processed, and used. In the context of background checks, employers are obliged to secure written consent from candidates, handle personal data with care, and store it securely to prevent unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.

How do human rights laws affect background checks in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has stringent human rights laws which impact the administration of background checks. In particular, the Discrimination Ordinances ensure that employers do not engage in discriminatory practices in the recruitment process. Any information garnered from a background check must not be used to discriminate on grounds such as race, gender, family status, or disability. This ensures fairness in hiring and promotes equality within the workplace.

Do different industries in Hong Kong require different background checks?

Indeed, the type of background checks can vary based on the industry and job role. For instance, for roles in finance, credit checks may be necessary to assess the financial integrity of the candidate. In the education or healthcare sectors, comprehensive criminal record checks are often mandatory to ensure the safety of students or patients. The use of sector-specific background checks helps employers make accurate hiring decisions.

How far back do criminal background checks go?

In Hong Kong, a criminal background check, usually issued as a “Certificate of No Criminal Conviction”, only discloses unspent convictions. Unspent convictions are those that are still relevant under the law due to their severity or recency. The period a conviction remains 'unspent' depends on the severity of the crime and varies from case to case.

What are the benefits of running background checks in Hong Kong?

Background checks can provide valuable insights for employers in Hong Kong. They help verify a candidate's qualifications and experience, ensuring that the individual is truthful and reliable. Moreover, these checks can protect the company's reputation, contribute to a safer workplace, and fulfill regulatory compliance requirements. By undertaking background checks, employers demonstrate their commitment to transparency and due diligence in their hiring practices.

What providers offer background check services in Hong Kong?

Several reliable providers offer comprehensive background screening services in Hong Kong. These providers offer a wide range of checks including criminal records, credit reports, bankruptcy records, and education verification. Always choose a provider with a strong track record and who adheres to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance to ensure the privacy of candidate data.

How does the background check process differ in Singapore and Hong Kong?

While both Singapore and Hong Kong value thorough background checks, their processes and regulations can differ. In Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Act governs how background checks are carried out. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, these checks are regulated by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. The specific checks and their scope can also vary, so it's advisable to consult with a global background check service provider.

Can employers in Hong Kong access a candidate's credit report and bankruptcy records?

Access to a candidate's credit report and bankruptcy records in Hong Kong is strictly regulated. It's usually reserved for jobs where financial responsibility is key, such as roles in banking and finance. Employers must obtain written consent from the candidate before accessing this type of personal data and adhere to data privacy rules.

Do educational qualifications need validation during background checks in Hong Kong?

Yes, it's common during the background check process to validate a candidate's educational qualifications. This usually involves contacting educational institutions directly to verify the authenticity of the candidate's degrees or certifications. It's a vital step in the hiring process, especially for roles requiring specific academic qualifications or professional certification.

What's the relevance of civil litigation records in background checks in Hong Kong?

Civil litigation records can provide additional insight into a candidate's background, particularly regarding their involvement in any legal disputes. While these records aren't typically part of a standard background check, they may be relevant for certain sensitive roles. As always, the candidate's written consent is needed before such a check is performed.

What information is included in a background check service in Hong Kong?

Background check services in Hong Kong usually include a range of checks based on employer requirements. Common checks include verification of criminal records, employment history, educational qualifications, and professional references. More comprehensive checks may involve credit history, bankruptcy records, and civil litigation records. The scope of the service will depend on the role and industry.

Do background checks in Hong Kong include visa verification?

Yes, for potential candidates who are non-residents of Hong Kong, background checks may include visa verification. This check ensures that the candidate has the legal right to work in Hong Kong. It's particularly relevant for roles requiring international expertise or for industries experiencing local talent shortages.

What is the scope of Hong Kong background checks compared to other regions in the Asia Pacific?

Hong Kong background checks are typically extensive, much like in other Asia Pacific regions. The checks often include verification of employment history, educational qualifications, and criminal records. However, specifics may vary depending on local data privacy laws and employment regulations across different regions in the Asia Pacific.

Are there regulations around using a candidate's date of birth in background checks in Hong Kong?

The use of a candidate's date of birth in background checks in Hong Kong is allowed but is strictly regulated. It's used primarily for identification purposes and age verification, not for discriminatory hiring practices. Employers must comply with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, which provides clear guidelines on handling and storing personal data.

Do employers verify professional qualifications during background checks in Hong Kong?

Absolutely. Verifying professional qualifications is a crucial part of background checks in Hong Kong. This verification process ensures that the potential candidate possesses the necessary credentials, certifications, or licenses for the job role. It involves cross-checking the provided information with the issuing authorities or institutions.

What are the regulatory requirements for conducting background checks in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, conducting background checks is governed by several regulatory requirements. The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, for instance, requires employers to obtain consent from the candidate before performing these checks. The Equal Opportunities Commission also provides guidelines to prevent discriminatory practices during the hiring process. Employers should familiarize themselves with these regulations to ensure compliance.

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 27, 2023

The Author

Carissa Tham

A British Columbia-based tech content strategist and writer, Carissa has lived and worked in Singapore, Taiwan, and Canada. Carissa lends her unique global perspectives to growing Rippling’s brand in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.