If you’re hiring employees in Spain, you may be thinking of running background checks on new hires. While employment screenings are standard in North America, they aren’t always conducted in European countries like Spain.
Still, employee background screening can be helpful for several reasons: A background check verifies your new hire’s identity and credentials, which can help eliminate potential issues for your company. For example, if a potential employee is inflating their educational background, lying about the companies they’ve worked at, or worse, stealing someone’s identity, a background check is safeguard before officially hiring your Spanish employee.
But for global companies hiring employees in Spain, the background check process isn't straightforward. You need to know what's allowed under Spanish rules and laws, and how you're obligated to handle and store your employees' sensitive data.
We’ve put together a guide to running comprehensive and legally compliant employee background checks in Spain—read on.
Table of Contents
- Are you legally required to run background checks on Spanish employees?
- Is it legal to run background checks on Spanish contractors?
- What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Spanish employees and contractors?
- What types of background checks are illegal in Spain?
- When should you conduct Spanish employee background checks?
- The easiest way to run a background check on a Spanish employee or contractor
- Background check mistakes to avoid in Spain
- Frequently asked questions about background checks in Spain
Are you legally required to run background checks on Spanish employees?
No, you’re not legally required to run background checks on employees in Spain. Although employers do not commonly conduct background checks on Spanish employees, the practice has been increasing recently.
Employers can request information about Spanish job applicants that is directly relevant to the position, including employment and education history and credit report. However, according to the Data Protection Act 1999, employers cannot carry out criminal record checks on employees unless they’re in industries like public administration, police, army, financial institutions, and insurance.
If employers decide to run employee background checks, they are responsible for:
- Protecting the applicant’s personal information
- Maintaining their confidentiality
- Using the information gathered only for legitimate purposes
Is it legal to run background checks on Spanish contractors?
Yes, it is legal to run background checks on Spanish contractors. One caveat—employers cannot conduct criminal background checks unless they:
- Are in industries like public administration, police, or the army
- Are hiring financial institution executives or insurance agents
- Will be working with children
Employers running background screening must also consider the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Spanish Organic Law 3/2018 on Personal Data Protection and digital rights guarantees.
What types of background checks do businesses commonly run on Spanish employees and contractors?
In Spain, you can conduct different types of background screening based on a new hire's role. Here are the most common types, and a few other background checks you can consider (more on each one below).
Common background checks
Less common background checks
Criminal record (depends on industry)
Social media profiles (depends on role)
Here’s each type of check in more detail:
- Employment history. You can contact the HR or payroll departments of a new hire's previous employers to verify their dates of employment, salary, and reason for leaving.
- Education history. Employers can contact schools, universities, and other educational institutions to request graduation dates, information on the course of study, degree or diploma obtained, and Grade Point Average (GPA).
- Reference check. If the new hire provided any references, employers can use that information to conduct a reference check.
- Work authorization. Employers can ask for proof that a new hire can legally work in Spain. This may be proof of citizenship or a work visa.
- Criminal record check. Under the Data Protection Act 1999, employers cannot carry out criminal record checks on employees, unless they’re in industries like public administration, police, or army, are hiring financial institution executives or insurance agents, or if they will be working with children. Because a person’s criminal history is considered private information in Spain, employers are prohibited from getting criminal record certificates except if they’re in certain industries where it may be needed. If you’re in an industry that requires running a criminal background check, you need to get written approval from the new hire. Only specific state organizations and officials, including judicial police, can access the Central Registry of Convicts in Spain.
- Credit reports. Credit checks are not a common type of employee background check in Spain, but they can verify a new hire's identity and background.
- Social media profiles. Although employers are not restricted from getting information available publicly or through social or internet searches, only the following are considered public-accessible sources: the public register, telephone directories, newspapers, official publications, and media, professional association memberships (restricted to name, title, profession, academic degree, address, and an indication of membership).
- Medical records or health checks. A person’s medical records are sensitive information. If employers need to run a health check, they need to provide a good reason for collecting and processing the data and get written permission from the new hire.
- Union membership. Union membership data is also considered sensitive data. You need to get consent from the employee before running a union membership check and provide a good reason for having to do so.
What types of background checks are illegal in Spain?
- Criminal records: According to the Data Protection Act 1999, employers cannot carry out criminal record checks on employees. But for specific industries like public administration, casinos, police, army, financial institutions, and insurance, a criminal record certificate or Certificado de Antecedentes Penales may be necessary.
- Discrimination based on background checks: Although employers can run employee background checks, they cannot discriminate against any employee before or after hiring them.
When should you conduct Spanish employee background checks?
Employers can conduct Spanish employee background checks as part of the pre-employment screening process. But employers should notify the job applicant that they are conducting a background check and obtain their written consent.
We recommend checking with your legal counsel before deciding when to conduct employee screenings on new hires.
The easiest way to run a background check on a Spanish employee or contractor
Several different companies can run background checks on employees in Spain, including Rippling and HireRight. 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.
If you operate in an industry that requires criminal background checks, you can request the employee obtain a criminal record certificate or Certificado de Antecedentes Penales at the Central Office for Citizen Services in Madrid or at the Territorial Management Offices from the Ministry of Justice or Ministerio de Justicia. Both require appointments.
Background check mistakes to avoid in Spain
- Assuming background checks in Spain are the same as in the US. Background checks in Spain are very different compared to the US. Whether your employee resides in Madrid, Barcelona, or other parts of Spain, they may not be as familiar with the practice as employees in the US. While the US has a standardized set of data most employers collect, regardless of whether it's necessary for the industry or role, employers can only request criminal background checks from employees if they are in specific roles and/or industries. Employers are also not allowed to discriminate against employees due to the background check or for any other reason, before or after hiring.
- Ignoring legislation specific to Spain. It's vital for employers to note the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR). The Spanish Data Protection and Digital Rights Act 3/2018 (the Data Protection Act) helps implement the GDPR. These legislations require data handlers to proactively ensure the safety of data collected on Spanish people.
- Not getting employee consent. Employers cannot collect any form of data without employee consent. Employers must also be clear about Spanish employees’ rights, especially the right to rescind consent at any time.
- Not being clear about why the background check is being carried out. Employers can only collect data like education verification, criminal record certificates, and other employee background data if they clearly explain to the employee how the collected data helps their commercial interests.
- The purpose of collecting data and who will receive the information
- Whether the questions are obligatory or voluntary
- The consequences of allowing (or not allowing) the employer to obtain the data
- How the employee may exercise their rights of access, rectification, erasure, portability, and objection of the collected data
- The identity and address of the data controller or their Spanish representative
- 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 Spain.
Frequently asked questions about background checks in Spain
Are background checks legal in Spain?
Yes, background checks are legal in Spain, but they are not as commonly carried out as in other countries. Background checks need to be conducted in compliance with Spanish data protection laws, human rights legislation, and other applicable regulations.
Employers are allowed to request information from Spanish job applicants that is relevant to the job position. However, unless the applicant will be working with children, in a casino, as a financial institution executive, in public administration, as police, in the army, or other specific roles and/or industries, employers are not allowed to request criminal records.
What language do you use for background checks in Spain?
For the most part, background checks in Spain can be conducted and documented in Spanish. By working with international workforce management providers like Rippling, employers can conduct and document background checks in English.
How do privacy laws affect background checks in Spain?
Spanish data protection and privacy laws are robust and have a significant impact on employee background checks. Spanish privacy laws even extend beyond Spain's borders—meaning global organizations hiring employees in Spain must also follow them.
The General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/679) (GDPR) is a European Union law that became effective in 2016. On 25 May 2018, it became directly applicable law in all Member States of the European Union, without requiring implementation by the EU Member States through national law.
A company that is not established within the EU will still need to comply with the GDPR if it processes the personal data of Spanish employees.
How do human rights laws affect background checks in Spain?
According to the Spanish Constitution, employees have the right to privacy, which means that employers must obtain the consent of job candidates before conducting any background check. This applies to any type of information that could be considered personal, such as credit history or medical records. Employers must also let candidates know about the specific type of information that will be collected, why it’s being collected, and how it will be used.
Furthermore, the Spanish Data Protection Act sets out specific requirements for processing personal data, including background checks. Employers must ensure that the information collected is accurate, relevant, and not excessive for the purpose for which it is collected. They must also take appropriate measures to ensure the security of the information and prevent unauthorized access, disclosure, or use. Finally, employers must delete or anonymize the information as soon as it is no longer needed. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in significant fines and legal liability.
Do different industries in Spain require different background checks?
Different types of background checks are allowed for different industries. In Spain, an employer should only conduct background checks that are necessary to the new hire's role—for example:
- You should only conduct a medical check if the industry requires a high level of physical fitness, like the army.
- You can only request criminal records from employees in public administration, the army, police forces, casinos, financial institution executives, etc.
How far back do criminal background checks go in Spain?
In Spain, the length of time that a criminal background check can go back depends on the type of crime committed and the sentence imposed. According to the Spanish Criminal Code, convictions for minor offenses, such as traffic violations, become "expired" after a certain period of time. This means that they can no longer be considered for employment purposes.
For more serious crimes, the length of time that a criminal background check can go back varies depending on the sentence imposed. For example:
- Convictions for crimes that carry a prison sentence of more than six years can be considered for employment purposes for up to 20 years after the sentence has been served.
- Convictions for crimes that carry a sentence of between one and six years can be considered for up to 10 years after the sentence has been served.
- Convictions for crimes that carry a sentence of less than one year can be considered for up to five years after the sentence has been served.
What are the benefits of running background checks in Spain?
Background checks come with many benefits for employers, including:
- Improved security. Background checks can help filter out job applicants who may pose a threat to their employee or other employees
- Protection against negligent hiring. Companies can be held responsible for hiring employees who later engage in public misconduct. Background checks can reveal past misconduct, helping mitigate this risk.
- Improved hiring quality. Employee background checks help filter out candidates with discrepancies or inconsistencies in their work or educational histories. They verify that applicants are who they say they are, and that their stated qualifications are accurate.
- Protection from occupational fraud. Background checks 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.