We know: All About Background Checks

What is a background check?

A background check is a report that compiles a variety of public record data about a person, including financial, legal, and employment information. It is often used by employers, landlords, and financial institutions to evaluate applicants.

What information is included in a background check?

Background checks often include information about a person's employment history, driving record, criminal record, social security number, educational record, property ownership, military record, credit history, medical record, drug test record, and bankruptcies. They can also contain personal, professional, and character references and testimonies from neighbors or employers.

What information cannot be included in a background check?

By federal law, background checks cannot report on bankruptcies that occurred more than 10 years ago or any negative information, including civil suits and accounts placed on collection, that is more than 7 years old. Many states have more stringent requirements about data that cannot be reported. Depending on the employer, some requirements are relaxed. For instance, in California, though employers in general cannot seek out information about arrests that did not lead to convictions, employers in the health care industry can inquire about arrests related to drugs and sex offenses.

Who can conduct a background check?

Technically, anyone can conduct a background check, since it typically involves investigating information that is a matter of public record. Most often, background checks are requested by employers, landlords, and other people who want to verify information applicants provide and learn about any negative information they may not have disclosed. There are private investigators and credit reporting bureaus who specialize exclusively in background checks.

What rights does the subject of a background check have?

The subject of a background check has the right to be notified when someone requests a report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, an employer must obtain an applicant's written authorization before conducting a background check. Additionally, the subject of a background check has the right to receive a copy of the resulting report, if they so request. If an employer takes "adverse action" (such as denying or terminating employment, rescinding a job offer, or denying a promotion) based on the results of a background check, the employer must supply the applicant with an "adverse action notice" containing the contact information for the credit reporting agency used.

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