Background Screening

Julie Shenkman
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Employers are increasingly turning to background screenings of job applicants as a way of minimizing legal and financial exposure. Concerns about workplace violence, negligent-hiring lawsuits, wrongful termination and other problems are leading many employers to be more careful about who is hired in the first place.

For applicants, however, background screening can create an uneasy feeling that they are mistrusted from the start or that Big Brother is watching.

The fact is, however, that background screenings of job applicants benefit employers and employees alike. And with the recent changes in the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, job applicants have a great deal of legal protection.

For applicants, the advantages of working for a company that requires screening is that efforts have been made to ensure that co-workers have the qualifications and credentials they say they have. In addition, employers typically screen for criminal records, especially those involving violence or dishonesty.

For the employer, screening saves the time and money wasted in recruiting, hiring and training the wrong candidates and eliminates potential difficulties in the work force.

Of course, a background screening is not a full-fledged FBI-type investigation. Screening companies are typically looking for red flags indicating potential problems or resumes that are not factual or omit important information.

Job applicants have recently been afforded substantial new legal rights to ensure the accuracy and fairness of the process. Congress amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act effective last September 30 to allow consumers to know exactly what is going on and to assert their rights in case of errors or mistakes. An applicant’s rights are listed in detail on the Federal Trade Commission Web site at

Under the FCRA, when an employers uses a background screening company to prepare a report, several steps must occur:

The employer must clearly disclose to the applicant in a separate document that a report is being prepared. The disclosure can no longer be buried in an application in the fine print.

A signed release is required before checking records such as criminal convictions or pending criminal cases, driving records, credit reports or educational credentials.

An additional notice is required when a background firm checks references, such as asking previous employers about job performance.

If an employer intends to deny employment based upon information in the report, the job applicant must receive a copy of the report and a notice of legal rights.

If an applicant believes the information is wrong, the applicant can inform the screening agency, which must remove or correct inaccurate or unverified information, usually within 30 days.

Applicants have the right to inspect their files. The law is designed to strike a balance between an employer’s need to exercise due diligence in hiring and an applicant’s right of accuracy and privacy. For applicants who are genuinely the victims of mistaken identity or bureaucratic errors, there is an opportunity to know what is being said about them and to fix the record so they are not denied opportunities unfairly.

For a job applicant, honesty is always the best policy. Negative information honestly disclosed in an interview with an explanation may well have no effect. However, if the employer discovers it through a third party, then the lack of honesty may be the reason for not getting the position.

Even a criminal conviction cannot legally automatically disqualify a person from employment, without considering the nature of the offense, when it occurred, what the applicant has done since and whether it is related to job performance.

©2001 by Lester S. Rosen


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  • David Sandbakken
    David Sandbakken
    This Article on Background Screening was very helpful.  Thank You
  • Kristal Torres
    Kristal Torres
    It's good that they offer a background check on this site before an employer decides to hire you. It's a good thing I have already done a local background check and Level 2 background check and included that in my resume
  • Diedria J.
    Diedria J.
    I feel that it is discriminating, I have a back ground, and I also am a good person with experience to work on a paying job, all I need is the chance to prove myself, but it is hard, because employers feel we maybe be no good. I've paid my dues and am a part of society, my mistakes in the past should not define who I am as the person I am today and inj the future.
  • Sheila P.
    Sheila P.
    I am willing to do a background check
  • marina
    I think it is good to have background checks, but it is not fair when your past hurts you because you did something 7 years ago. You paid for it back then and pay for it again. I made a mistake and did my time. I lost a great dream job. Now I probably won't ever get another chance. That stinks.
  • Cortney H.
    Cortney H.
    I have a record because I did a lot of dumb stuff when I was younger but I have a family now. How am I suppose to live my new life and take care of my family when no one is willing to give me a chance? I am a great worker and have qualifications. What am I supposed to do when no one wants to give me a job?
  • norman
    I've had my problem too and I still have not found a job. However, I am not about to give up any time soon. We have to keep going and we will prevail at the end. Just don't give up.
  • Wilton Holoday
    Wilton Holoday
    After reading all those comments related to job search and discrimination, unfortunately I have to say this is deficiency of the system. The economy is not doing well, there is not enough jobs for everybody. Employers would not bother checking backgrounds if there was work for everyone. There are many other deficiencies of this political system, but lack of jobs hurts the most citizens. You can not proceed with your life without having a steady job, steady pay, health benefits and insurance. This situation is in hands of people who govern this country and it is up to them if they want to change it. Most likely they will not change it since most politicians are selected from the wealthy class and they don't understand most of the comments above, they have never been in this kind of situation.Maybe this statement will answer most of the questions: "It costs about $60K/year to keep one prisoner in jail in this country, but nobody will offer you a job or retirement paying 60K/year." How to explain this reality ?. any comments are appreciated !
  • Lois M.
    Lois M.
    I am right there, the over 50 group and recently fired from my last position. I have over 30 years experience in my field of expertise. I have only listed my past two employers on some applications so as not to reveal my age. I have tailor made cover letters to specific jobs, I've been turned down because of credit or Bk check. Went on a interview that I considered a slam dunk, got the call the next day in anticipation of great news, nadda... ????? I have 4 separate resumes showcasing different experience. Now What? I keep paddling...
  • Andy Rister
    Andy Rister
    If you have a criminal background it seems that you are simply "shucks out of luck". Heaven forbid you are "of age" with any sort of VERIFIABLE disability. How can you move from your past when it stares you in the face all the time
  • jim
    Then why are they in charge of this country?
  • Joanne
    I was told that if they call on a previous work reference, they are not allowed to ask why or how you left that job, and your previous workplace cannot give that information out. Is this true? Reason why I ask is because I got fired from my last job (don't judge unless you know the whole story), so how does it look if I put down "fired" in the spot where they ask "reason for leaving"? They would probably throw the application out! Should I be totally honest and explain, which I feel, and everybody I know and talk to feels that I got screwed on the deal (a lawsuit was even mentioned, but big corporation so...), or should I make something up?
  • ToniJ
    As my friends and I search for jobs we are coming across more and more employers who do background checks prior to an offer of employment.  As far as I'm concerned this is just a device for discriminating against older applicants since you must provide your date of birth, year you graduated, etc. etc. which are all ways they can figure out how old you are.  Age is one of the most common forms of discrimination and background checks prior to a job offer facilitate it.  
  • kyle h.
    kyle h.
    This is one reason we are in the shape we are in more red tape more corporate Controlling the USA. More sheep standing around the water cooler pointing fingers. That is Intel the shoe is on the other foot and some thing happens in there life and what did we do before the HR people. How did we ever get along . And how is it that I know people with bad back ground that have lower end jobs I guess Its ok  to have one if you want a lower end job or are here illegally I here people say they are trying to get read of the middle class and I am sure this will help .  every one has made past mistakes but to keep people from making a living is Wong and it will just make are crime rate go up and more home less families . What happen to a honest days work for a honest Days pay
  • Carla M.
    Carla M.
    I was denied employment twice in December of 2010 because of i misdemeanor that happen 1999. It was for a check for $46.25. I closed out the account and moved in that same year thinking that all checks had cleared. In 2001 I went to get my licensed renewed and found out that I had a warrant out for my arrest. I went to that county courthouse to pay the fine for $319.25, They put It on my record. One of the jobs that turned me down didn't have anything pertaining to a misdemeanor on their application and only inquired about a felony. I passed the drug screening and went through all the necessary procedures only to be denied employment.
    Employers should do background and credit checks for those people they are going to hire not for every person that responds to the job-ad
  • Susan Jensen
    Susan Jensen
    I agree with James Hand. There is massive age discrimination. My sister worked for a job agency and she would send older workers who had one or two degrees and dressed well and were in good shape and the employer  would call her back and say "Send us someone younger." She said "Don't tell me that. I could have you sued for age discrimination." So I'm sure there are agencies who are listening to these employers who do what they say and scan for younger workers.   I have no criminal record, no drug background, and good credit  and a bachelors and can walk 8 miles and swim one. I have a straight 18 year work record but don't put all those years on my resume so the employers don't know how old I am but when I get an interview they know I am older and so I know they think I am qualified but when they see I'm older they turn me away.
  • Paul
    I know life can be unfair, but it's truly sickening that we are all too quick to forgive an athlete or movie star with a criminal record but corporate america won't consider a well qualified person with a record of outstanding accomplishment in their chosen profession.
  • CT
    These corporations have completely gotten out of hand.  If credit is not apart of your job responsibilities, then it should be illegal to check your credit.  And even if credit is apart of your job, a bad credit report does not mean that you would dishonest.  The American people should begin to speak out and fight against this invasion of privacy.
  • Paul
    Just weathered a background check for a job I was offered yesterday. They wanted information from me that went back "20 YEARS" and it was simple, petty info that had NO bearing on my abilities.
  • Jennifer F.
    Jennifer F.
    I just wish that when the employers interview you that you are not led to believe that you will be hired, and then you don't receive a phone call. I also wish that they would take off the internet any job openings once the position is filled.
  • Donna W.
    Donna W.
    How do I obtain a background screening on myself so that I can see what employers see in regards to my history.How do you discuss leaving a position due to a hostile work environment.  I find it difficult to discuss the true reasons for leaving a position without the potential employer thinking I am a problem employee.  In many corporate environments, there is so much office bullying that it is virtually impossible to defend yourself unless you are protected by a corporate officer for one reason or another.Any assistance regarding this matter is appreciated.
  • vanessa
    If an employer has you sign off on a background check and states that their search is for the past 7 years why then do they go back 15 or 20 years? If you have a past record from 15 or 20 years how can a person be expected to gain employment and become a productive member of society.
  • richard
    I was fired after I got hurt and filed a claimthey gave me a letter that said I threatened them and had unbuisness like talks with tenants which is not true and they had no proof of it they even tried to stop my unemployment but they could not and I won my comp claim what can I do to fix my good name or fill a suite against them for giving me a bad name
  • Tekeashia B.
    Tekeashia B.
    I Agree!

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