A background check is a standard review of someone's records. These reports can include credit checks, driving records, criminal background information, and more. Typically, background checks are requested by employers before you get a job offer.
Institutions that conduct background checks on people must adhere to regulations. These regulations are put forth by the FCRA and EEOC.
How the FCRA Protects You During a Background Check
The regulations of the FCRA put guidelines on how employers receive and utilize background check results. Employers are subject to certain expectations and laws when reviewing any consumer report.
Per the FCRA, there are some regulations that employers must follow when requesting and running your background check.
- Employers must receive your written consent before subjecting you to a background check
- If an employer asks a third-party company to provide an investigative report, they must notify you. You have a right to the details of the scope of this investigation.
- If an employer decides not to hire based on the results of a background check, they must provide you with a pre-adverse action letter. That letter should include a copy of your background check and your rights.
- They must provide you with the name and address of the Consumer Reporting Agency they used and information on your right to dispute the report.
- You have the rights to all records in your name. It’s within your rights to ask the credit reporting agency to disclose your file and you can dispute any issues or errors.
Common FCRA Violations During Background Checks
It's important to understand the ways in which your rights can be violated when an employer or other party runs a background check on you.
Some common violations during background checks are:
- Running a background check without FCRA permitted purpose. Employers can run background checks on new hires, as well as internal employees who are seeking a promotion, with consent. Your employer is not allowed to run background checks at random.
- Disclosure violations. The employer is required to inform you in writing that they intend to run a background check and get your consent. If they do not, that’s in violation of your rights under the FCRA.
- Refusing to share your results. Upon completion of your background check, your employer should offer you an opportunity to review a copy of your report. If they refuse this, it would be a violation.
- Denying a job based on an unrelated criminal offense. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) bans employers from excluding candidates based on past arrests or criminal convictions, with some exceptions. This is unique and can change on a case-by-case basis.
- Failure to follow pre-adverse action regulations. If a background check results in a decision to not hire a candidate, the employer must issue the applicant a notice, called a pre-adverse action letter. If you were denied a job based on a background check, but were not provided a pre-adverse action letter, it is a violation.
Can You Say No To a Background Check?
Background checks are a common practice by employers today; in some cases they are required for employment. Background checks help keep workplaces safe.
You always have the right to say no to a background check, but your potential employer also has the right to choose not to hire you because of that.
If you are asked to fill out a background check very early in the hiring process, such as after the initial interview, you can always ask them to wait. Just be aware that the employer could reject this request.
How to Prepare for a Background Check
If you’re job hunting, you should be ready for background checks. It’s a good idea to have an idea of what’s on your record and if there are any red flags so you can plan how you will handle them.
Request a Free Copy of Your Background Report
Before allowing employers to run your background check, check it out yourself. You can request a free copy of your credit report from a reporting agency so you know its contents. If you are concerned about other aspects of your background history, consider running an online search on your background.
Doing this prior to your job hunt will allow you to anticipate any red flags. You can also dispute any errors you find on the report before you allow an employer to view it.
Decide How Much Information You Will Volunteer
If you know you have items on your background check that may be concerning to an employer, you may preemptively offer your explanation.
There is no priority for you to share information that may affect your candidacy unless you are questioned about it by an employer. If you do decide to preemptively explain any issues, you should wait until an employer asks you for consent to perform the background check.
Yet, you don’t have to preemptively disclose anything at all. You can simply wait until the background check is complete and see what they say.
If employers do question you about records found in your background check, you should:
- Keep your answers short.
- Be honest.
- When possible, provide steps you have taken to overcome and/or rectify the past issues found.
- If you believe there is an error on the report, let them know.
Background checks are an unavoidable prerequisite to employment for most people today. However, the Fair Credit Reporting Act background check rules and regulations protect you. By knowing your rights and reviewing your own background report, you should be well prepared for job hunting!