US Background Records
A background check is a compilation of a person’s personal records, criminal records, commercial records and financial records often used to verify a person’s identity or ensure that the information given by that person is true and accurate and that they are trustworthy individuals and/or upstanding citizens. Background checks are often used by employers as a means of judging a job candidate’s past mistakes, character and fitness and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. A general list of the research conducted during a background check includes verification of a person’s academic history, character reference checks, employment history, criminal record history, personal identity, address history and credit history.
Employers often conduct background checks on potential new employees, which can be as basic as checking for valid social security numbers and previous employers. Sometimes job opportunities, such as with the U.S. government, may require a more in-depth background check because the individual will be serving in a position that requires a security clearance or need to be near sensitive information.
The basic information needed to conduct a background check are the person’s full name, date of birth and social security number if checking their credit report. To check a person’s criminal records does not require a social security number.
Federal Trade Commission
Although some employers may require a background check prior to receiving employment, the potential employee does have legal rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces federal law that regulates background reports for employment.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws against employee discrimination. It is not illegal for a potential employer to request a background check, but they are not allowed to ask for medical information until they offer you the job and are not allowed to ask for your genetic information, including family medical history, except in limited circumstances. If an employer does ask about your background, they are legally required to treat you the same as anyone else, regardless of your race, national origin, color, sex, religion, disability, genetic information or older age (40 or older). For example, if you are a certain race or ethnicity, they are not allowed to ask for additional background information than they would ask of others.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was enacted in 1971 to ensure consumer reporting agencies are held responsible with regards to fairness, impartiality and respect for a consumer’s right to privacy. The FCRA protects a person’s report by placing limits on what information can be placed on their credit report. The FCRA applies to more than the credit report as well – it can include the consumer’s credit standing as well as their character, reputation, mode of living and similar information, often used to determine a person’s eligibility for credit, insurance or a job. Background screening companies are the consumer report agencies the FCRA regulates. The FCRA applies certain rules about what should and should not be reported on a credit report, including bankruptcy cases (can only remain on a credit report for 10 years) and all other adverse information (can only remain for 6 years), except for criminal convictions. No medical information can be shared unless the report is being used for insurance purposes. The FCRA also requires the consumer’s permission prior in order to legally access their credit report.