It’s a buyers market for today’s employers. The avalanche of resumes they get every day can be stifling. And picking the right candidate for the job can be challenging.
With all the automated techniques currently available to weed through resumes, one screening tool has risen to prominence: the Background Check. Fortunately, there are rules governing background checks:
Prior Consent. Employers must have your prior consent before conducting a background and credit check. In addition, an employer must first extend an offer of employment, one contingent upon your successfully passing the background check--before they even begin the process.
Off-Limits Records. Employers can’t use certain records. If you were arrested for a crime, but charges were never filed, it may appear on our record but without a conviction. Such records can’t be used against you.
Job-Related Criminal Checks. Even if you were convicted of a crime, it must be related to the job you’re applying for. If a DUI conviction is on your record, and the job you applied for has nothing to do with driving a vehicle, the DUI can’t be used against you.
Job-Related Credit Checks. Credit checks must be related to the job. Regulations are very specific when it comes to credit checks. For example, “bad credit” can not be used to discriminate against certain ethnic groups.
Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limitations. FCRA refers to a background check as a "consumer report" and says that the following cannot be reported:
- Bankruptcies after 10 years.
- Civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest after seven years.
- Paid tax liens or accounts “in collection” after seven years.
- Any negative facts (except criminal convictions) after seven years.
These reporting restrictions do not apply to jobs that pay over $75,000 or more a year. I found this restriction troubling because most college-educated employees with a few years of experience will hit this mark.
So what do today’s employers look for when they dig into your background? In general, background reports can include everything from a verification of your Social Security number to a detailed account of your work/school history and acquaintances. Your typical background check my include:
Education Records. This would include name, address, dates of attendance, degrees earned, and any school activities you were involved in. But federal law says transcripts, recommendations, discipline records, and financial information are confidential.
Military Service Records. The military may release your name, rank, salary, duty assignments, awards, and duty status. Other than that, the federal Privacy Act says that your service records are confidential.
Medical Records. In many states, your medical records are confidential and cannot be released without your knowledge or authorization. If an employer asks that you take a physical exam after they offer you a job, they’ll have access to the results. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits a potential employer from inquiring about your medical status unless it directly affects your ability to do the job.
Before consenting to a background check with a potential employer, talk to an employment law attorney in your city. Laws affecting what employers can and cannot do vary by city, county and state.