For some jobs, screening is required by federal or state law. While some people are not concerned about background investigations, others are uncomfortable with the idea of an investigator poking around in their personal history.
In-depth background checks could unearth information that is irrelevant, taken out of context, or just plain wrong. You may not have a skeleton in the closet or even be particularly concerned that your employer knows a lot about your private life. But, you certainly want to know that the information the employer receives is accurate, complete, and not misleading.
You also want to know that the report is about you -- and not an identity thief who has stolen your good name. A further concern is that the report might include information that is illegal to use for hiring purposes or which comes from questionable sources. Not necessarily. The U.
This can happen, the EEOC says, when employers treat criminal history differently for different applicants or employees. A person cannot be denied employment based on a criminal record alone. EEO laws apply in employment situations whether the employer hires a third-party screening company or not. The EEOC has issued extensive guidelines for employers in considering the criminal history of a job applicant or employee.
Background reports can range from a verification of an applicant's Social Security number to a detailed account of the potential employee's history and acquaintances. Information included in a background check will depend to some extent on the employer and the job involved. For many jobs, a state or federal law requires the employer to conduct a background check. Some employers search social networking sites such as Facebook for the profiles of applicants.
Here are some of the pieces of information that might be included in a background check. Note that many of these sources are public records created by government agencies:. However, the law only applies to background checks performed by an outside company, called a "consumer reporting agency" under the FCRA. The law does not apply in situations where the employer conducts background checks in house.
The FCRA says the following cannot be reported:. Criminal convictions are reportable indefinitely, unless your state provides otherwise. California follows the seven-year rule CA Civil Code To find the limit for reporting criminal convictions in your state, contact your state's employment agency or Office of Consumer Affairs. Arrest information. Although arrest record information is public record, in California and some other states, employers cannot seek from any source the arrest record of a potential employee.
However, if the arrest resulted in a conviction, or if the applicant is out of jail but pending trial, that information can be used. In California, an exception exists for the health care industry where any employer who has an interest in hiring a person with access to patients can ask about sex related arrests.
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When an employee may have access to medications, an employer can ask about drug related arrests. Criminal history. In California , criminal histories or "rap sheets" compiled by law enforcement agencies are not public record. Only certain employers such as public utilities, law enforcement, security guard firms, and child care facilities have access to this information.
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Information offered online by data brokers is not always accurate or up to date. Bankruptcies are public record. However, employers cannot discriminate against applicants because they have filed for bankruptcy. Although these laws should prevent an employer from considering certain information, there is no realistic way for the applicant to determine whether such information will be revealed in a background check.
This is particularly true for investigations conducted online where the information obtained might not be verified for accuracy or completeness. For example, if you were arrested but never convicted, a data search could reveal the arrest, but the investigator who compiled the information might not delve further into the public records to determine that you were acquitted or the charges were dropped. Reputable employment screening companies always verify negative information obtained from database searches against the actual public records filed at the courthouse.
Education records. Transcripts, recommendations, discipline records, and financial information are confidential. A school should not release student records without the authorization of the adult-age student or parent. However, a school may release "directory information," which can include name, address, dates of attendance, degrees earned, and activities, unless the student has given written notice otherwise.
Military service records.
Under the federal Privacy Act of , service records are confidential and can only be released under limited circumstances. Inquiries not authorized by the subject of the records must be made under the Freedom of Information Act. Even without the applicant's consent, the military may release name, rank, salary, duty assignments, awards, and duty status.
Medical records. The FCRA requires your specific permission for the release of medical records.
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If employers require physical examinations after they make a job offer, they will have access to the results. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows a potential employer to inquire only about your ability to perform specific job functions. Often a potential employer will contact an applicant's past employers.
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A former boss can say anything truthful about your performance. However, most employers have a policy to only confirm dates of employment, final salary, and other limited information. California law prohibits employers from intentionally interfering with former employees' attempts to find jobs by giving out false or misleading references. Under California law and the laws of many other states, employees have a right to review their own personnel files and make copies of documents they have signed. If you are a state or federal employee, your personnel file is protected under the California Information Practices Act or the federal Privacy Act of and can only be disclosed under limited circumstances.
Jobs such as truck driver positions fall under regulations of the federal Department of Transportation. Employers are required to accurately respond to an inquiry from a prospective employer about whether you took a drug test, refused a drug test, or tested positive in a drug test with the former or current employer. An employment background check often includes a copy of your credit report. The three major credit reporting agencies Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax provide a modified version of the credit report called an "employment report. However it doesn't include your credit score or date of birth.
Nor does it place an "inquiry" on your credit file that may be seen by a company looking to issue you credit. Often employers use your credit history to gauge your level of responsibility. Whether a valid assumption or not, some employers believe if you are not reliable in paying your bills, then you will not be a reliable employee. Unfortunately, a bad credit report can work against you in your search for employment.
In addition to your payment history, a credit report typically includes information about your former addresses and previous employers. Employers can use this as one way to verify the accuracy of information you provide on an application or resume.
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Do any state laws limit the use of credit reports for employment screening purposes? Several states have passed laws limiting credit reports for employment decisions with provisions that require a nexus to actual job duties. A California employer cannot review your credit report unless the job falls into one of numerous exceptions. The FCRA allows employment checks not only for hiring purposes but for other employment purposes such as promotion, retention, or transfer.
Credit checks for the purposes of retaining you as an employee allows the employer to check your credit periodically. Once you have given your permission, you generally need not be asked again. Employers may run periodic checks, for example, as a way to identify individuals who have a high debt to salary ratio.
To an employer, an employee who is overextended financially may be more prone to stealing from the company. There are many companies that specialize in employment screening. The most important thing to keep in mind is that companies conducting background checks fall into several broad categories. This can range from individuals commonly known as "private investigators," to companies that do nothing but employment screening, and to online data brokers.
Corporations that employ large numbers of people may have an established relationship with a third-party background checking company or may even use an affiliated company for their employment screening. Other background checking companies may work on a less formal basis with employers. Some screening companies operate in specific areas of the country while others conduct background screening nationwide. It is easy for employers to gather background information themselves.
Much of it is online, allowing employers to access public records and commercial databases relatively easily. Employers should understand that online data brokers may be subject to the FCRA, triggering obligations on the part of the company as well as the employer.
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