Is it legal for potential employers to look into my past?
The key to success for any business is the ability to hire and retain effective, responsible employees. Because of this, many companies have implemented background checks into their hiring processes. As a job seeker, it’s highly likely that you will be informed by potential employers that they plan to check your background. For many applicants, the question arises as to whether or not this practice is within the potential employer’s rights or if it’s a violation of privacy. Here’s a guide on what they can and cannot look at when it comes to your history:
What’s included in an employee background check?
What your potential employer can ask for when it comes to a background check often depends on what position you are applying for and what it entails as far as security, responsibility and financial involvement in the company. That being said, there are standard items that most employers look for in screenings including:
- • Identity verification
- • Social security number
- • Date of birth
- • Addresses
- • Educational background
- • Employment history
What about credit history?
Although it may seem invasive, your potential employer can look into your credit history. In some states they are required to get your signature in order to run the report. And there are laws that prohibit them from discriminating against you for your credit report and certain items that they cannot see if the check is run by an outside company. The FCRA (Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act) law states that the following things cannot be released in a report to a potential employer:
- • Bankruptcies after 10 years
- • Paid tax liens after 7 years
- • Accounts placed for collection after 7 years
- • Civil suits, civil judgments after 7 years
While it may seem unjust for a company to look at your credit history during the application process, the fact is, it is well within their rights and gives them a view into how responsible you are and have been in the past. For certain positions that carry a high level of responsibility or involve large amounts of money being overseen, this information is key to hiring the right person.
What about past arrests or convictions?
Running a criminal background check has become standard in many states in the US and is mandatory for certain jobs like teaching and childcare, public service, police departments and some others. If you’ve been arrested, convicted or involved in any criminal activity, employers will want to know. For positions that pay $75,000 or more, there is no time limit for arrests and conviction records, but for those less than that, any records over 7 years are not included. Things that a potential employer can see as far as criminal history include:
- • Arrests that took place less than 7 years in the past
- • Sex offender records
- • Jail time
- • Litigation records
- • Warrants
What other information can employers access?
In addition to verifying who you are, your educational background, credit history and criminal past, an employer can also look into several other aspects of your past to determine if you are a good fit. Some of these include:
- • Driving records (traffic violations, court cases, license suspensions and revocations)
- • Aliases
- • Worker’s compensation cases
- • Drug testing records
- • Professional certifications and licenses
- • Personal & professional references
Whether they use a professional background screening company like ours or do their own digging, companies can legally delve into your past as a part of the pre-employment process. Depending on the state in which you are applying, there are different rules that need to be adhered to in order for the company to remain compliant, and in most cases they will need to notify you of their intention to run a check. If you are unsure what is in your records, it is always a good idea to run a background check on yourself before you begin applying for new positons. (It should be noted that in some cases and per the FCRA, arrests by themselves may not be enough to cause employers concern without convictions by a court of law.)
For more information about background checks or if you need assistance getting a report, get in touch with us. We’d be happy to help.