Employer Background Checks and Your Rights (2023)

If you’re applying for a job or a promotion, an employer might run a background check. Federal law and some state laws give you rights when this happens. Employers must get your written permission before running a background check from a background reporting company. You have the right to say no, but if you do, you may not get the job.

  • What Employers Can Ask About Your Background
  • Background Reporting Companies
  • If You’re Turned Down for a Job or Promotion
  • Denial Due to Discrimination
  • What You Can Do Before You Apply
  • Protect Your Privacy
  • Report It to the FTC

What Employers Can Ask About Your Background

When employers ask you about your background, they must ask you the same questions they ask every other applicant — regardless of your race, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender status), religion, disability, genetic information (including family medical history), or age (if you’re 40 or older).

Employers aren’t allowed to ask for extra background information because you are, say, of a certain race, or because you have filed a complaint against an employer alleging employment discrimination before.

Employers also can’t retaliate against you — whether you’re a job applicant or employee — for asserting your right to be free from employment discrimination, including harassment. Asserting these rights is called “protected activity,” and it includes opposing alleged discrimination, or participating in proceedings under federal laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

There are also rules about the types of questions an employer can ask you:

  • your employment history
  • education
  • other public records, financial or credit history, and your public social media activities

Employers cannot ask you about and check your background for

  • medical information if they haven’t offered you the job. Employers may ask you for medical information in limited circumstances either after they’ve offered you the job, or after your employment begins.
  • genetic information, including your family medical history (except in limited circumstances)

Some employers might say not to apply if you have a criminal record. That could be employment discrimination. If that happens to you, contact the EEOC. Find more information on arrest and conviction records in employment decisions at the EEOC website.

Laws in your city or state might impact whether or when employers can ask you about and run a background check for your criminal history or credit history. Here are some things to consider:

Background Reporting Companies

When employers hire a background reporting company in the business of compiling background information and history, certain rules apply:

  • The employer must tell you they could use the information to decide about hiring, promoting, or firing you. They must give you this information in writing and in a standalone document. They must also get your written permission before asking the company to run a background check.
  • An employer must take certain steps before they decide not to hire, keep, or promote you because of something in the report. They must give you a copy of the report and a “Summary of Rights” that tells you how to contact the background reporting company.

If You’re Turned Down for a Job or Promotion

In some instances, it’s legal for an employer to deny you a job or a promotion based on information in your background report. Sometimes it’s a mistake. In other instances, the employer’s decision to deny you a job or a promotion might be based on discrimination. If you don’t get a job or a promotion because of information in your background report, the employer must tell you the following verbally, in writing, or electronically

  • the name, address, and phone number of the background reporting company
  • that the background reporting company didn’t make the decision about not hiring or promoting you and can’t give specific reasons for it
  • that you have the right to dispute information on your report that is inaccurate or incomplete with the background reporting company. You can do this by contacting the background reporting company and following the company’s instructions for disputing the information
  • that you have the right to get an additional free report from the background reporting company. You must ask for it within 60 days of the employer’s decision.

When you get your background report, review it carefully. If you think there are mistakes, contact the background reporting company to explain the mistakes and ask that they fix them, and include any supporting documentation you have with your request. If the background reporting company informs you that it has revised your report, review the report to make sure the mistakes are gone. Ask the background reporting company to send a copy of the corrected report to the employer and tell the employer about the mistake.

Denial Due to Discrimination

In some instances, an employer’s use of an individual’s background report information can lead to illegal discrimination. For example, employers shouldn’t use a background report policy or practice that

  • excludes people with certain criminal records if it significantly disadvantages one group of individuals compared to another group, based on race, national origin, or other protected characteristics covered by state or federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination; and
  • does not accurately predict who will be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee.

In legal terms, an employer cannot have a policy or practice that has a disparate impact on a particular group, unless there’s a job-related reason and it’s consistent with business necessity.

If you think an employer discriminated against you during the background check process, you may contact the EEOC by visiting its website at eeoc.gov or by calling 1-800-669-4000, or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY). The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender status), national origin, age (if you’re 40 or older), disability, or genetic information, or in retaliation for a person’s involvement in prior activities protected by federal employment discrimination laws. The EEOC investigates, conciliates, and mediates charges of employment discrimination and, in some instances, files lawsuits in the public interest.

What You Can Do Before You Apply

  • Check your credit report. That way, you can fix any mistakes before an employer sees it. To get your free credit report, go to AnnualCreditReport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.
  • See if the local police and FBI list any criminal records in your name. Visit the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs site for detailed information on how to get this information. The information you find here might be different than what a background reporting company might have. But mistakes in local and FBI records can cause you problems. It’s worth checking if you’re concerned. And if you spot mistakes, you can be ready to address them or explain them to a potential employer.
  • Know your rights as a job applicant or employee. The EEOC enforces federal laws designed to protect you against employment discrimination because of different protected categories. While employers generally can ask about your criminal history, employers can’t use your criminal history to discriminate against you based on a protected category, like your race. If you believe an employer has discriminated against you, contact the EEOC online at eeoc.gov, by calling 1-800-669-4000, or by locating an EEOC field office near you.

Protect Your Privacy

  • Don’t put your Social Security number or banking information on an application or resume. If a company asks you for this information before you even interview, it’s probably a job scam. Employers may ask for your Social Security number during the interview process to run a background check. Once you’re hired, they may ask for your banking information so you can get direct deposit for your paychecks.
  • Be mindful of what you share on social media and other places online. If you don’t want potential or current employers to see something you say or do, think about not posting it, or limiting who you share it with.

Report It to the FTC

If an employer got your background report without your permission, or rejected you without sending you the required notices, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Also tell the FTC if you learn that a company shared your information with others without your permission.

Keep in mind that the information in this article is not legal advice. For that, you’ll need to consult an attorney. For the most up to date EEO-related developments, visit eeoc.gov.


Employer Background Checks and Your Rights? ›

Even though you can safely omit some information about your criminal past, you must offer an honest answer when directly asked about it by the interviewer. Don't lie about your past, even if it was a minor offense or a single occurrence. Many employers conduct background checks, which will reveal the incident.

How do you answer background check questions? ›

Even though you can safely omit some information about your criminal past, you must offer an honest answer when directly asked about it by the interviewer. Don't lie about your past, even if it was a minor offense or a single occurrence. Many employers conduct background checks, which will reveal the incident.

What does it mean when an employer asks if you can pass a background check? ›

Undergoing a background check doesn't always guarantee that an employer has decided to hire you for a job. However, a background check is usually an indicator that an employer is seriously considering you for an available role.

Does pre-adverse action mean I won't get hired? ›

Pre-Adverse Action

The pre-adverse action letter can be delivered via electronic or hard copy form. Its purpose is to inform the applicant that you will not hire them for the position based on information uncovered in the background check.

Can you still be hired after an adverse action letter? ›

All that to say, a candidate can still be hired after receiving a pre-adverse notice. If their information is misleading and they can dispute what was used against them, then they still have a chance.

How do you respond to a failed background check? ›

You must give the candidate an opportunity to dispute the results of the background check if there are any inaccuracies or provide additional context. Fair hiring laws in some jurisdictions may include a specific amount of time for this step, typically between five to 10 business days.

How to tell a candidate they didn t pass the background check? ›

Whatever the reason, here are five actions to take if your job candidate doesn't pass a background check.
  1. #1: Send a pre-adverse action letter. ...
  2. #2: Give them a chance to explain. ...
  3. #3: Review the entire picture. ...
  4. #4: Make a final decision. ...
  5. #5: Send them a final notice adverse action letter.
Sep 23, 2016

What background check do most employers use? ›

The most popular form of background check is Level 3 background check. Criminal records, schooling, past employment, and reference checks are all part of this process. If desired, pre-employment drug test results can be included in Level 3 background check reports.

Does decisional mean failed background check? ›

What does “decisional” mean on a background check report? “Decisional” means that the employer has configured the results in the background check to require additional review by the employer or the property management company.

Does onboarding mean I passed the background check? ›

Yes. Onboarding means they are bringing you in as an employee. That means the background check passed.

What does it mean when a company takes adverse action against you? ›

In the hiring process, adverse action means a company is considering not hiring the applicant or that they may withdraw an offer. Usually, this is based on an adverse report on a consumer report or background check.

What does complete adverse mean on a background check? ›

Within the context of background checks, adverse action means that an employer has negatively impacted an applicant's job prospect due to information gained from the report.

What is the difference between adverse and pre-adverse? ›

The only real difference is that the Pre-Adverse Action Notice tells the applicant that you plan to or may reject him/her (or take other adverse action) based on information in the report. However, the Adverse Action Notice advises that you have made a final decision to do so.

Should I be nervous about a background check? ›

Should I be worried about a background check? A background check is a prerequisite of the hiring process and cannot be avoided. As long as you are honest on your resume and understand your rights, you will not have anything to worry about. Be sure to review the background check laws in your state before applying.

What are the future consequences of failed background check? ›

Usually, failing an employment screening will mean that you need to find a different job. An offense or red flag that leads to disqualification from one hiring process might not have the same impact everywhere. Some employers are more lenient and are willing to give candidates second chances.

How many days after an adverse action? ›

A creditor must notify the applicant of adverse action within: 30 days after receiving a complete credit application. 30 days after receiving an incomplete credit application. 30 days after taking action on an existing credit account.

Can a company reject you after background check? ›

Whether you can hire the person despite his or her record depends on several factors, including industry-specific regulations as well as the position he or she is seeking. Under certain circumstances, denying a job to an individual with a criminal history may be considered discriminatory.

How often do people fail background checks? ›

And even then, the majority of employers (59%) only disqualify 5% or fewer applicants based on past criminal convictions, according to Sterling Talent Solutions' Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report—and 67% of employers said they would proceed with a candidate evaluation after finding a conviction not ...

What is a rejection letter after failed background check? ›

Dear [RECIPIENT NAME], We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve your application at this time. Rejection was made in part from information obtained in the background check you permitted us to obtain.

Why would a company reject a candidate based on background check? ›

Other reasons for a failed background check could include poor credit history, false employment history, or failed drug tests. Any of these reasons can justify not hiring a candidate. But to do so without violating federal or state law, you need to know how to reject them correctly.

How to let an internal candidate know they didn t get the job? ›

How to Break the News
  1. Prepare in Advance, but Don't Delay. ...
  2. Deliver the News in Person. ...
  3. Be Clear About Why the Job Offer was Extended to Someone Else. ...
  4. Take the Candidate's Feelings into Consideration. ...
  5. Use It as an Employee Development Opportunity. ...
  6. False Promises Are Not a Good Idea.
Oct 3, 2022

Does First Advantage call previous employers? ›

First Advantage contacts previous employers directly to confirm the information applicants provide. Automated processes and support teams will chase and provide detailed audit trails of results or even inability to secure a verification.

How far do most employer background checks go? ›

In general, background checks for employment typically cover seven years of criminal and court records, but may go back further depending on federal and state laws and what is being searched.

What is a soft background check? ›

A soft inquiry is when a lender pulls your credit score or accesses limited information rather than your entire credit report. When a soft inquiry is made, it is shown as an inquiry rather than a pulling of your credit report.

How do employers verify employment history? ›

Some hiring managers do it themselves, reaching out directly (typically via phone) to your current or previous employers to request official verification. Alternatively, employers may use professional background screening firms and/or an employment verification service such as The Work Number® from Equifax.

Who makes the final decision after a background check? ›

Decisional outcomes must be directly reviewed by the employer's hiring team, who will make the final decision regarding eligibility based on an assessment of the candidate's employment application materials, the background checking report and a review of all available relevant information.

What companies use first advantage? ›

Apply Filters For Customers
Citigroup Inc.Banking and Financial Services210153
SubscribeBanking and Financial Services7500
SubscribeLife Sciences14400
5 more rows

What does it mean when your background check is rejected? ›

The main reason background check reports are rejected is because they are either missing a required section or the uploaded document is not a full background check report. If your background check report was rejected by the verification system, it was probably due to one of a couple of reasons.

What does HR do before job offer? ›

In addition to employment verification and a background check, HR might even do a salary verification to ensure that the candidate's salary history is consistent with information he provided during the interview process or to help your company determine any difference between the candidate's previous earnings and the ...

Does a job orientation mean you're hired? ›

A job orientation does not always mean you got the job.

This means you have been selected to come in and see the facility and work. If you have not had any notice that you have been hired, contact HR to see the status of the application.

What does FTI mean on a background check? ›

Federal Tax Information (FTI) consisting of federal tax returns and return information (and information derived from it).

Is an adverse action letter bad? ›

An adverse action notice will not hurt your credit score or show up on your credit report. However, if the creditor pulls a hard credit inquiry, this may temporarily lower your score—and all hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years.

What is an example of an adverse action? ›

The following are examples of adverse actions employers might take: discharging the worker; demoting the worker; reprimanding the worker; committing harassment; creating a hostile work environment; laying the worker off; failing to hire or promote a worker; blacklisting the worker; transferring the worker to another ...

What is any such adverse action taken by an employer against an employee known as? ›

What is retaliation? Retaliation occurs when an employer (through a manager, supervisor, administrator or directly) fires an employee or takes any other type of adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity.

What is considered a satisfactory background check? ›

Satisfactory criminal history background check determination means a written determination that a person for whom a records check was performed was found to have no criminal record.

What does a red flag mean on a background check? ›

If there is a felony on your criminal record, it could be a red flag for employers. A history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, robberies, or serious drug offenses can make it difficult to pass a background check. However, it can still be possible to get a job even if you have a criminal history.

What is an adverse decision? ›

The term “adverse decision” means an administrative decision made by an officer, employee, or committee of an agency that is adverse to a participant. The term includes a denial of equitable relief by an agency or the failure of an agency to issue a decision or otherwise act on the request or right of the participant.

Is adverse the same as negative? ›

But not all adverse events are negative, for example, an adverse event includes the effect that Viagra has on erectile dysfunction as its purpose was heart medication during its development. Negative Side Effects include a secondary undesirable but expected addition to a treatment or medication.

Does adverse mean side effect? ›

Side effects, also known as adverse reactions, are unwanted undesirable effects that are possibly related to a drug.

What does adverse impact mean simple? ›

Adverse impact means an impact that independently or cumulatively damages, diminishes, degrades, impairs, destroys, or otherwise harms.

Can anything go wrong in a background check? ›

Mistakes on background checks are surprisingly common. And when you consider that the vast majority of employers conduct some type of background check, it adds up that many innocent job seekers are not being hired because of background checks gone wrong.

How can I stop worrying about a background check? ›

How Can You Improve Your Background Check Results and Your Anxiety?
  1. Be truthful on your application and in the interview. ...
  2. Understand your rights. ...
  3. If you have a problematic past, explain the circumstances to the employer. ...
  4. Run a background check on yourself and verify the results.
Feb 4, 2019

How do you get around a bad background check? ›

Have strong references. Even if you have a bad background check, having impressive references can help you to still obtain the position you are applying for. A good reference can vouch for your character and argue why you are a good fit for the position despite any issues regarding your background check.

What happens if an employer finds a discrepancy during a background verification? ›

Significant discrepancies between a candidate's resume and background check can indicate that the candidate has something to hide in their employment history, which can hint at future problems.

What if I lied about my employment history? ›

Once an employee has been found to have lied on their resume, the employer has the right to terminate the employment contract. The employee and employer relationship is one that's built upon trust. Finding out that the job was granted based on fictitious information causes this trust to be breached.

How do I get a job with bad work history? ›

5 Ways to Overcome a Negative Work History
  1. Be Equipped with an Explanation, but Be Honest. If you've had poor performance on a past job, don't hide it from your potential employer when asked. ...
  2. Explain How You Overcame These Issues. ...
  3. Take Courses to Overcome a Weak Skill-set. ...
  4. Obtain Better References. ...
  5. Leave it Out.
Jul 25, 2013

Does adverse action mean denied? ›

An adverse action notice is to inform you that you have been denied credit, employment, insurance, or other benefits based on information in a credit report. The notice should indicate which credit reporting agency was used, and how to contact them.

How do I prepare for a background check interview? ›

How to prepare for a background check
  1. Maintain accurate records of your educational background and previous employment. ...
  2. Obtain copies of your records. ...
  3. Be honest during the job application process. ...
  4. Tell your professional references that you've listed them as references. ...
  5. Know how to discuss employment or education gaps.
Mar 18, 2023

What is an example of a background interview question? ›

Typical background questions include inquiries about where you went to school (undergraduate and/or business school), what you majored in, and why/where you studied abroad if you've done that. These questions are not too difficult to answer as long as you're thoughtful and have a decent rationale for what you say.

What are some things an employer Cannot ask you on a job application? ›

Illegal Job Interview Questions to Avoid
  • Age.
  • Race.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Color.
  • Gender.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Country of origin.
Feb 21, 2023

What is usually asked in a background check? ›

An employer may ask you for all sorts of background information, especially during the hiring process. For example, some employers may ask about your employment history, your education, your criminal record, your financial history, your medical history, or your use of online social media.

How do you answer how your background is good fit for a job? ›

List particular reasons for why you're a great fit for the position, list specific skills that will help you achieve specific results, mention specific goals you have in mind for the position, and bring up specific details and pain points of the company you can solve with several specific steps.

How has your background prepare you for this role answer? ›

Points to Emphasize

Talk about the courses and training you have had that helped you to better perform your job. Show how your personal experiences make you a better employee. Explain how your experiences and the qualities you honed there make you the best candidate for the job.

How do you pass a background check? ›

The first step to passing your background check is to make sure you have a clean credit and bank history. You need to be sure that you've paid your bills on time, and that you aren't behind on any of them. It also helps if you have a good credit score if you're dealing with tenant screening.

What to expect during a background investigation interview? ›

The background investigation will include credit and criminal history checks, records checks to verify citizenship of family members, verification of date of birth, education, employment history, and military history.

What questions do background investigators ask employers? ›

What Employers Want to Know
  • Dates of employment.
  • Educational degrees and dates.
  • Job title.
  • Job description.
  • Why the employee left the job.
  • Whether the employee was terminated for cause.
  • Whether there were any issues with the employee regarding absenteeism or tardiness.
  • Whether the employee is eligible for rehire.
Nov 16, 2021

What is the best answer for Tell me about yourself? ›

Your answer to the "tell me about yourself" question should describe your current situation, your past job experience, the reason you're a good fit for the role, and how you align with the company values. Tell the interviewer about your current position and a recent big accomplishment or positive feedback you received.

What do you consider your strength? ›

In general, your strengths should be skills that can be supported through experience. For example, if you list communication as a strength, you may want to recall a situation in which you used communication to reach a goal or resolve a problem.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tish Haag

Last Updated: 10/27/2023

Views: 6664

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tish Haag

Birthday: 1999-11-18

Address: 30256 Tara Expressway, Kutchburgh, VT 92892-0078

Phone: +4215847628708

Job: Internal Consulting Engineer

Hobby: Roller skating, Roller skating, Kayaking, Flying, Graffiti, Ghost hunting, scrapbook

Introduction: My name is Tish Haag, I am a excited, delightful, curious, beautiful, agreeable, enchanting, fancy person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.