How Does a Criminal History Background Check Work?

How Does a Criminal History Background Check Work?

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A criminal background check is fundamental to making the right hire.

The criminal history background check is one of the best tools to limit liability for employers and ensure you hire the best employees. But to many employers, it’s little more than a black box; names go in and results come out. So, here’s an overview of how the criminal history background check works, what it finds, and how to interpret it.

It all starts with the applicant. You should make it clear to the applicant what their rights are under federal and state law, and you should also discuss what you’ll be looking for on the background check. Depending on whether you’re using a credit check as part of the process, you will also need to abide by the rules laid out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA.

It’s recommended that you run a Social Security trace, which will generally require pulling your applicant’s credit report. Even if you’re not interested in the credit information, a credit report is often the best tool for tracking both previous addresses for the last seven years, and any AKAs your applicant may have. If, for example, your employee has divorced and changed their name back to their maiden name, it’s in fact illegal to ask an employee their martial status. It is legal to ask them to disclose any names they’ve held before, but the Social Security trace will turn up names discreetly and without embarrassing the applicant or making them relive potentially unpleasant past history.

Once you collect the necessary data, the background check team you’ve commissioned will examine records in up to three different places: Federal, state, and county. The most thorough check will examine records at all three levels. Of note that how detailed the results will be depends heavily on state law; certain states will only disclose felonies, while others may also offer the results of traffic court rulings and match names against the sex offender registry.

You can decide how far back the background check goes, although previous addresses will generally stop after seven years due to FCRA compliance. Generally, the more thorough you want the criminal history background check to be, the further back you should go. Keep in mind that there’s little point in going into the past beyond the applicant reaching the age of majority; juvenile records can be sealed from public view or even expunged completely, depending on state law and the legal counsel your applicant may have hired.


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The right background check means the right hire.

You should also specify what offenses you’re looking for. For example, if you want a detailed driving history, you should run a report looking specifically at traffic courts and any tickets the applicant might have received. It’s generally recommended to write out a list of felonies and offenses that are direct concerns for your business; this both gives you a focused report and helps you avoid accidental discrimination.

Once the data’s been collected, it’s collated into a report and sent to the employer. How you use the report, and who you hire? Well, that’s up to you. If you want the best information about your applicants, request a free background check trial and see what we can do to help you find the best employees.