Know Your Rights: Job Background Checks


With studies showing that a large majority of employers use background checks before offering someone a job, it’s more important then ever to know what exactly is included in the public record of your past – good and bad.

With unemployment near 10%, the last thing job-seekers need is to lose jobs over something a potential employer digs up on a background check. But you can find out what will come up from your past, and if there are any black marks you need to correct.

Here’s the deal. Employers look at any business decision as a matter of risk. With new hires, companies aren’t willing to take the chance on hiring someone who will bilk the company or embarrass it with criminal behavior. In many cases, especially on the job, companies are liable for their employees’ behavior.

Confirming the information potential employees put on their resume is another high priority for employers. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 49% of hiring managers said they have caught applicants lying on resumes.

Lying or not, you do have some leverage in the background check process. For example, employers have to let you know they’ll be conducting a background check. You can refuse that request, although employers will likely view that as an attempt to hide some damaging information. If you’re rejected for a job based on information found during a background check, the company has to let you know specifically what it found.

What are employers looking for in a background check? It could be something as simple as verifying your Social Security number, but it could also be an in-depth review of your criminal history, credit status, academic degrees, driving record, drug testing, legal issues with previous employers, or even your Internet habits (background checks are increasingly being done on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter).

Companies are limited in what they can do with whatever information comes up, though. They can’t discriminate against you if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, and in most states, like California, medical records are off-limits on background checks.

Other states like Washington, Hawaii and Oregon, don’t allow employers to factor in credit report scores into a hiring decision, unless it’s directly related to the job.

How can you make the best of a background check? As in most situations, preparation is key. Here are a few tips:

Order a credit report – Once a year, you can get a free credit report at If there’s anything fishy in it, issue a formal dispute against the report. If there are any outstanding bills, pay them as soon as possible. Typically, clean credit reports lead to easy hires.

Examine your court records – If you had a speeding ticket, or if you were arrested for a crime, visit the county or municipality where the alleged offense occurred and make sure the data is correct and there are no discrepancies or surprises awaiting you. Companies likely won’t hold an arrest leading to an acquittal against you, but they will likely want an explanation on a conviction – if they don’t reject you based on the conviction alone.

Conduct your own background check – You can actually do your own background check. Companies like Intellicorp, SentryLink, and U.S. Search all provide online background checks for about $20.

The information included on your background check can mean the difference between getting that great job and not. Stack the odds in your favor by knowing what the rules of the road are and taking concrete steps to clean up any damaging information that a potential employer may hold against you.

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