The easy guide to employee background checks in Portugal

Last Edited

July 19, 2023


Rana Bano

Conducting background checks in Portugal is a crucial step to help companies make informed hiring decisions and reduce their risk. But here's the catch: the screening process in Portugal is different from what you might be used to in countries like the US or the UK.

Portuguese law prohibits companies from conducting background checks on job applicants directly or through third-party screening agencies. They can't even store any personal information obtained from these checks in a database.

However, there's a silver lining. Companies can still request and verify information—provided they have prior consent from the applicants and comply with the relevant laws and regulations.

It sounds complicated, but with our guide you can expertly navigate the regulations and conduct successful background checks in Portugal. You can then make informed hiring decisions while avoiding any potential legal penalties or fines.

Let's get started...

Table of Contents

  • Are you legally required to run background checks on Portuguese employees?
  • Is it legal to run background checks on Portuguese contractors?
  • What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Portuguese employees and contractors?
  • What types of background checks are illegal in Portugal?
  • When should you conduct Portuguese employee background checks?
  • The easiest way to run a background check on a Portuguese employee or contractor
  • Background check mistakes to avoid in Portugal
  • Frequently asked questions about background checks in Portugal

Are you legally required to run background checks on Portuguese employees?

No, background checks on Portuguese employees are not mandated by law. Yet many employers still do it to ensure they're hiring trustworthy and qualified individuals.

But before companies can conduct these checks, they must comply with the relevant laws and regulations in Portugal. These laws dictate what information can be requested, modified, and stored.

For example, companies must obtain informed consent from each applicant before conducting any checks. They also cannot request sensitive or private information from applicants, only information that's necessary to assess their skills and abilities.

Is it legal to run background checks on Portuguese contractors?

Yes, it's legal to run background checks on contractors in Portugal. Portuguese law doesn't prohibit companies from screening their contractors and third-party service providers.

However, before you get started with the background check process, it's essential to make sure that you're complying with data protection laws. This means obtaining the necessary consent from the contractors and informing them about the screening process. It's important to remember that any information you gather should only be used for the communicated purpose and be kept confidential and protected.

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

Here are the most common types of background checks you can conduct in Portugal based on the role you’re hiring for:

Common background checks

Less common background checks

Criminal background check

Medical records screening

Education history check

Driving records screening (depends on role)

Employment history check

Social media profiles (depends on role)

Reference check

Drug and alcohol tests

Work authorization check

Now, let's discuss each type of background check in more detail.

  • Criminal record check: In Portugal, you can get access to a citizen’s criminal records if you have a legitimate reason that is directly linked to the role or responsibilities the candidate will undertake. To access an applicant’s criminal record, you’ll need the candidate’s written consent, as well as authorization from the Data Protection Agency. Carefully access each candidate’s situation and only request this sensitive data when it’s necessary to verify their ability to perform specific professional tasks.
  • Education history check: Portuguese law permits hiring managers to conduct education verification of potential employees. However, you can only request pertinent information, such as past educational certificates or licenses. The screening process should also adhere to the limits of what’s directly relevant to the job in question while maintaining the utmost respect for the applicant’s right to privacy.
  • Employment history check: Checking an applicant’s past employment records is legal in Portugal, but you need their explicit consent according to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2016/679. In addition, you’ll also need written authorization from the candidate allowing you to disclose their employment history details to third parties. Note that this rule is solely defined by the GDPR and the Portuguese laws don’t have any specific regulations concerning employment history checks.
  • Reference check: You can contact all the references the candidate provides to cross-check their qualifications and experience.
  • Work authorization: You can ask a potential employee for proof that they can legally work in Portugal. This can be proof of citizenship or a work visa.
  • Medical screening: You can request applicants to undergo medical tests and exams as part of your due diligence or employee screening process. Before proceeding, you’ll have to submit these requests in writing and get a doctor involved to determine a candidate’s suitability for the role. For instance, if you are hiring for a job that requires driving long distances, you can request a medical screening to assess the applicant's fitness for the task.
  • Driving records: If you’re looking to hire for driving positions, you can ask for a job applicant’s driving records through their driver’s license to verify its validity and ensure they’re no claims against it.
  • Social media profile and internet search: Portuguese labor laws allow employers to conduct social media screening of prospective employees, provided they stick to public sources. This also prohibits accessing an individual’s private content or any data behind a paywall. Also, when screening social media profiles, limit consideration of information exclusively to the job requirements. Any personal data or relevant information should not be a determining factor in your hiring decision-making process.
  • Drug and alcohol tests: Employers are allowed to test job applicants for drugs and alcohol, but only if it's necessary for the job or safety reasons. In 2010, the National Data Protection Authority issued guidelines to limit testing only for occupational health reasons and for jobs where there's a risk to the employee or others.

What types of background checks are illegal in Portugal?

  • Questions related to an applicant’s personal life. You cannot request information about a job applicant’s private life, except for information required to assess their suitability for the job. In such cases, you have to provide in writing the specific reasons for needing the information.
  • Credit checks. In Portugal, an individual’s credit history is deemed personal, so you can’t run a credit history check as part of your pre-employment screening process.
  • Questions related to an applicant’s health or pregnancy. Aside from general health exams that are specifically needed to evaluate an applicant’s overall physical and psychic conditions, asking for any other sensitive health or medical test results (for example, a pregnancy test) is prohibited under Portuguese law. If you believe you have the grounds to ask these questions or require a pregnancy test, you’ll have to provide the applicant with written justification along with evidence.

When should you conduct Portuguese employee background checks?

You can run a background check after giving the applicant a conditional job offer. This will make it clear that you'll only proceed with the screening if you offer them the job, but it'll depend on them passing the background check. Also, you'll have to give the applicant notice in writing whenever you conduct the check, as well as get their written permission beforehand.

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

There are several different companies that can run background checks on employees in Portugal, including Rippling, Info Cubic, Owens OnLine, and AMS Inform. 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 Portugal

  • Thinking background checks in Portugal are similar to standard checks in the US or UK. Background checks in Portugal are quite different from how they're done in most Western countries. Unlike in the US, where most employers follow a standardized set of data for background checks, regardless of industry or job role, Portugal has laws that require employers to collect only the essential data necessary for the check.
  • Not getting the applicant's consent before running a background check. Portugal has strict privacy laws when conducting background checks. To stay compliant, you'll need to obtain written consent from applicants before conducting any type of employment verification. Additionally, transparency is key when it comes to using third-party background check services, as you'll need to clearly outline the data required to run the screening process and explain why it's necessary.
  • Collecting too much (unnecessary) data during the background screening process. Portugal's privacy laws emphasize the importance of minimum data collection. This makes it crucial to only collect the data essential for the new employee's role. Collecting too much data may lead to serious consequences, so it's vital to keep this in mind.
  • Skipping the background check. With so many regulations and guidelines to follow, carrying out background checks for international employees may seem intimidating. You may even be tempted to skip the process entirely. However, you shouldn't underestimate the importance of background checks, as they play a crucial role in safeguarding both the company and yourself.

Rippling makes it easy to run background checks in Portugal.

Frequently asked questions about background checks in Portugal

Are background checks legal in Portugal?

It’s legal to conduct background checks in Portugal, but there are some legal restrictions on the information you can ask a candidate.

Employers are allowed to request information that is relevant to the job position. They must also obtain informed consent from every candidate before the screening, and understand the responsibility for maintaining the security and confidentiality of this information.

Do the laws for background checks on existing employees differ in Portugal?

No, the same laws apply to background checks on both job applicants and existing employees in Portugal.

Are there different rules for doing background checks on full-time, part-time, and contingent workers in Portugal?

No, there are no variations in the rules for background checks between full-time, part-time, and contingent workers in Portugal.

Which privacy laws and regulations regulate background checks in Portugal?

In Portugal, the data protection law protects the personal information of citizens. And the Commissao Nacional de Proteccao de Dados (CNDP) is the main authority that ensures compliance with this law.

The law outlines the key guidelines employers should keep in mind when collecting and handling a Portuguese citizen’s personal data.

  • Collect relevant and necessary data, and not more than what’s necessary
  • Use the collected data solely for the intended purpose
  • Ensure the collected data is accurate and up-to-date
  • If data is inaccurate, it should be discarded and replaced with correct information
  • Delete collected data when it’s no longer required
  • Store collected data in a secure location with limited and appropriate access

Can third-party screening agencies carry out background checks on behalf of companies?

Yes, companies can hire specialized third-party screening agencies to carry out background checks on their behalf. However, the job applicant has to consent to this, and the agency should understand its responsibility in terms of handling and storing the job applicant’s information.

What are the benefits of running background checks in Portugal?

Background checks can offer many advantages to employers, such as:

  • Increased security. Background checks can identify potential threats among job applicants, ensuring the safety of your company and employees.
  • Protection from negligent hiring. If a company hires someone who later engages in misconduct, they can be held accountable by law. Background checks can uncover previous misconduct and minimize this risk.
  • Improved hiring quality. Background checks can help weed out applicants who provide false or inconsistent information about their work or education history. This ensures that candidates are legitimate and qualified for the job, which is likely to lead to better performance.
  • Protection against occupational fraud. By detecting dishonest or fraudulent job applicants, background checks can protect your organization's reputation and build a reliable workforce.

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 19, 2023

The Author

Rana Bano

A Kolkata-based B2B and business trends writer, Rana writes on global workforce onboarding and management, with expertise in Japan, Mexico, Portugal, and, of course, India.