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What’s In and What’s Out in a Background Check?

Background reports can range from a verification of an applicant’s Social Security number to a detailed account of the potential employee’s history and acquaintances. In fact, a Vault.com survey found that 44% of employers use social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, to obtain information about job applicants, while 39% have searched such sites for information about current employees.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets national standards for employment screening, yet it applies only to background checks performed by an outside company, called a “consumer reporting agency.” It does not apply to employer in-house background checks. The FCRA says the following cannot be reported for jobs with an annual salary of less than $75,000:

  • bankruptcies after 10 years
  • civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest, from date of entry, after seven years
  • paid tax liens after seven years
  • accounts placed for collection after seven years
  • any other negative information (except criminal convictions) after seven years

To learn about employment laws in your state, search the Internet for “employment inquiries” followed by the name of your state. State and local equal employment opportunity agencies, along with federal EEO field offices, may also be located through the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Web site.

What can my former employer say about me?

Often a potential employer will contact an applicant’s past employers. A former boss can say anything [truthful] about your performance. However, most employers have a policy to only confirm dates of employment, final salary, and other limited information. In many states, employees have a right to review their own personnel files and make copies of documents they have signed.

You have the right to know when a background check is requested.

Amendments to the FCRA, in effect September 30, 1997, increase the disclosure and consent requirements of employers who use “consumer reports.” Such reports might consist only of a credit check, while more extensive reports might include criminal histories, driving records, even interviews with neighbors, friends, and associates.

Background Checks and Your Credit Report

An employment background check often includes a copy of your credit report. The three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) provide a modified version of the credit report called an “employment report,” which includes information about your credit-payment history and other credit habits from which current or potential employers might draw conclusions about you.

Can an employer hold the fact that I never use credit against me?

In a word, “Yes.” The employer might be looking for someone who has an established record of paying bills on time. The FCRA says only that certain things like negative information more than seven years old cannot be considered. However, if a lack of credit information results in you not getting the job, the employer has to give you an adverse notice decision.

This wraps up my discussion of Background Checks. I hope you have found it helpful, or at least interesting. Either way, next time I blog, it will be on a new topic! Now I ask you, can life get any more exciting?

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