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Background checks

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A background check (or, back ground check) is a review of the past history of a job applicant to verify credentials and experience and to collect information regarding the prospective employee's potential for the job under consideration.

Reasons for backgroud checks

  • Verification: Companies want to confirm the possible employee has their stated qualifications, work history and credentials. Any gap in employment dates will lead employers to believe information may have been intentionally omitted or perhaps there was an employer they would rather you not contact.
  • Criminal history: Companies want to learn of any criminal activities in the applicants past.
  • Special clearance for security: Some companies that provide contracted services to local, state or federal government agencies, may require all employees and sub-contractors to successfully pass certain types of due diligence and security clearance.


Legal issues regarding background checks

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulates the guidelines for an employment background check. The FCRA designates an employment background check as a consumer report and therefore, falls into FCRA jurisdiction. All potential employers must obtain signed authorization from a job applicant prior to running a background check. An employer not conforming to this mandate can incur considerable fines and penalties.

Just recently, a class action lawsuit claiming infringement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) was settled in the amount of $2.6 million.[1] In this case, plaintiff claimed that employer was secretly conducting background checks without prior signed authorization of potential employees.

Information a former employer can reveal

Each state has different laws and regulations related to what information an employer can reveal about a former employee.

At the federal level, there are no restrictions to what former employers can say.

Some employers may not disclose any other information than job title and dates of employment for fear of slander, libel or defamation lawsuits. These, however, are civil lawsuits brought by the potential employee, not a government agency.


  1. See Hall v. Vitran Express, Inc.