Criminal Background Checks – What You Should Know As A Job Candidate

While applying to jobs, what do you need to know about criminal background checks?


As a job applicant, you’ve been interviewing for your dream job, and the HR interview seems to be going smoothly. Suddenly, when you expect to hear good news, the unexpected happens – your candidature is put on hold until the criminal background check is complete. Criminal background checks may take a couple of hours or even up to days.

Here, most candidates have 2 major questions:

  1. Is this legal?
  2. What information can I expect to appear on the criminal background check?

First, yes it is legal for employers to conduct criminal background checks on job applicants. However, it has to be done in adherence to FCRA guidelines in order to avoid discrimination of any sort. Also, the employer must get clear consent before performing the check.

In some states, the law determines a significant portion of what appears on the background check. For instance, if you have been arrested for a crime in California but not convicted, then this information cannot be used to reject your candidature.




Learn what is the difference between a name-based and a fingerprint background check?


1.  What info can you expect on your criminal background check, and what if there are inconsistencies with respect to timelines and facts?

Again, state law may disallow arrest records from being disclosed, if it did not end in a conviction. Regardless, the information from the check may vary based on the source from which it is extracted.

This can include:

  1. The national criminal database: This captures criminal acts recorded at the national level, including traffic violations and sex offenses. This is typically an online search, thus providing instant results. Due to this, the information may not be up-to-date.
  2. Federal criminal database: The US has 94 federal district courthouses, with their own data set of records. This information takes more time to retrieve but is considered more accurate than the national database.
  3. State-level database: This is recorded at the state-level.
  4. County-level database: This is the most comprehensive and updated capture of criminal records. Accordingly, this is manually retrieved and thus takes time. It is also one of the more expensive background check services.

Finally, there is also the international watch list that contains records of persons considered dangerous to the country.

In addition to these, an employer may also consider performing a detailed credit check on a job candidate (after receiving their consent).




2.  Your information has matched with a criminal record. Are you automatically rejected?

The quick answer is no. However, it may be an eventual possibility, depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime.

As per FCRA guidelines:

  • Hiring managers notify a job candidate with a pre-adverse action notification when considering rejecting them due to information retrieved during a background check.
  • The candidate is allowed to respond to this notification. For instance, the information collected may be inaccurate or out-of-date (like an arrest warrant being negated as it did not lead to a conviction).

Based on your response, the hiring manager will use an individualized assessment along with a decision matrix (also recommended by FCRA), in order to make the best decision that is both fair and non-discriminatory.


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