What shows up on a background check?

Aug 6, 2019 | Background Checks, Uncategorized

The information found in a background check is dependent on the type of background check in question. Each background check uncovers different types of personal background information. Since information uncovered in background checks is very sensitive, it is subject to privacy protection regulations. Background check information falls under the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) with requirements on how such information is handled by employers specified by the EEOC. [1] Retention and sharing of background information is also subject to some additional local and state guidelines. 

What shows up in criminal background checks? 

Almost all background checks will investigate an individual’s criminal history. The information uncovered is based on the information provided. In the case of a person seeking employment, their background check will be based on supplied information such as their Social Security No. A criminal background check will reveal:

  • Pending criminal cases 
  • Felony and misdemeanor conviction 
  • History of incarceration 
  • Arrests pending prosecution (can also be reported) 
  • Arrests that didn’t lead to convictions can also appear 

Juvenile detention or convictions don’t normally appear in a criminal background check; however, other criminal convictions will show up unless your state forbids disclosure of such convictions after a specific time period. For instance, disclosure of convictions which are over seven years old is forbidden in states like New York, Washington, Montana, New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachusetts, California, and Kansas. Some states like Hawaii forbid disclosure after ten years. 

What shows up in pre-employment background checks? 

Employers usually conduct criminal background checks and reference checks to verify information on; past education, employment, and professional licenses. Employers usually specify pre-hiring screening requirements based on the nature of a job position. For instance, an employer may specify they search the driving records of candidates or require applicants to undergo drug testing as a pre- employment requirement. Such testing is common in jobs involving operation of delicate/hazardous equipment and motor vehicles or roles with demanding elements of responsibility on the safety of customers,  public or fellow employees. 

Limitations based on pay 

There are specific state and federal regulations limiting what is reported in employment checks based on the salary of the job in question. 

For instance, if a job applicant is being considered for employment in a job position that pays $74,999 and below annually, information on government sanctions, civil judgments and disciplinary measures linked to professional licenses should not show up in their background check results. If the salary is $75,000 and above, that information can appear regardless of the age of the information. [2] 

What shows up in FBI background checks? 

If you are searching for employment in federal government agencies or companies that work with/for government agencies in the US and beyond, you will be subject to an FBI background check. As the name suggests, the background check is done by the FBI to uncover comprehensive background information about a person. 

FBI background checks uncover all interactions an individual has had in the past and present with law enforcement agencies which offer criminal information to the FBI. Besides convictions, an FBI background check will also include all arrests, traffic violations, parking tickets and any other information collected by the FBI. 

Before an FBI background check is done, job applicants must agree to fingerprinting conducted by an authorized law enforcement agency. Fingerprints are scanned against the FBI’s fingerprint (IAFIS) database which contains fingerprints compiled by immigration officials, law enforcement agencies and past employment screenings. Fingerprints may be checked against other databases like the NCIC, which contains criminal information history of individuals, wanted criminals, sex offenders, terrorists, etc. 

FBI checks are usually part of the steps of obtaining security clearance for jobs in government agencies or companies working with government agencies. Besides checks, job applicants must undergo other processes, including interviews. [3] 

Information/documents required or retrieved by background searches 

Identity & Social Security verification 

Anyone who is eligible to work in America must have a social security number. Job applicants are required to surrender this no. as part of the verification process. Your social security number yields a screening report that shows your name and address history. It can also show if the no. has been in use. SSN information helps to cross-reference information provided by job applicants to detect inaccuracies. 

Credit report 

Some background checks may require credit report information. If you are seeking employment in the financial industry sector, you may be required to have a good credit history for obvious reasons. Credit reports offer identity information such as name, address, and date of birth. Credit reports also contain credit inquiries, loan information, and A/Cs placed for collection. Such information uncovers past credit inquires identifying financial institutions and lenders which have requested a person’s credit report. 

Credit reports may contain information about previous bankruptcies, which can be a warning sign for employers seeking to hire you in job positions requiring you to handle money. High debt levels or excessive spending can be an indication of financial irresponsibility. 

Important: Employers can’t see bankruptcy information after 10 years as well as A/Cs placed for collection after 7 years. 

Driving records 

Although states can have varying rules and regulations on driving records, most allow checks as far as a decade. Some states allow just three years of records. 

Other records 

Background checks can also reveal military records, character references, worker’s compensation, drug test records, etc. However, different states have different laws governing how much information is available to third parties. 

Will traffic tickets show up in a background check? 

Most consumer reporting agencies report traffic infractions when background checks are being done. However, some omit such details if they aren’t requested. 

Will dismissed charges show up in a background check?

Dismissed cases may/may not appear in criminal background checks. The EEOC has guidelines forbidding denying job applicants opportunities based solely on arrests that don’t result in convictions. 

Will restraining orders or order protections show up in a background check?

Restraining orders are treated as civil matters. They rarely appear in criminal background checks unless as a footnote in a criminal record. Restraining orders may appear in databases and websites offering public information – resources used in pre-employment screening. 

Will sealed or expunged records show up in a background check?

When courts expunge trial or conviction records, case files are removed from public access, and convicted parties or defendants are not obligated to disclose details about the case when enquires about their criminal history are made. As a result, a sealed case shouldn’t show up in a pre-employment background check. However, there exists a time delay between case resolutions and the decision to expunge records. This time delay is the reason why expunged or sealed records appear in criminal background searches for a while. For this reason, the existence of an expunged conviction shouldn’t be used to discriminate. [4] 

Important: Some background checks i.e., level 2 checks may require expunged convictions involving mistreatment of children among other vulnerable individuals legally reported. However, such disclosures require a court order. 

In summary, what shows up in a background check will be dictated by various factors including; the type of check, who is doing it, why they are doing it as well as the laws that apply in that state and generally such as FCRA restrictions. In regards to the person or entity conducting a background check, the FCRA has specific restrictions when an employer or any other institution conducts a background check via consumer reporting agencies. If the employer conducts checks internally (i.e., via the HR department) FCRA restrictions don’t apply. [5] 

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