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Surprising Things a Background Check Can’t Tell You About a Candidate

You’re looking to hire a new candidate or thinking about promoting an employee from within your company.

But before you take a step further you want to run a background check. What are the legal requirements and information you need to be aware of as an employer before you start this process? We do our best to give you an overview on the process below.

Information requested for a background check depends on the employer and the job involved. For some jobs, a state or federal law requires the employer to conduct a background check. Working with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities are examples of jobs that require a criminal background check. 


What a background check cannot tell you. Group Management Services, a PEO, manages background checks for clients. Image of magnifying glass and document. “day 307” by Mark Tighe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What information is included in a background check? 

Many of the sources for a background check are public records created by government agencies. However, the detail of a background check can vary from a simple verification of an applicant’s Social Security number to a detailed account of the potential employee’s history and acquaintances. 

Some information that may be included in a background check are

  • Driving records
  • Vehicle registration
  • Credit records
  • Criminal records
  • Social Security number
  • Education records
  • Court records
  • Bankruptcy
  • Character references
  • Neighbor interviews
  • Medical records
  • Property ownership
  • Military records
  • State licensing records
  • Drug test records
  • Past employers
  • Personal references
  • Incarceration records
  • Sex offender lists 

What information cannot be included in a background check?

According to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which sets national standards for employment screening, the following information cannot be reported*

After 7 years: 

  • Civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest, from date of entry
  • Paid tax liens 
  • Accounts placed for collection 
  • Any other negative information (except criminal convictions) 

After 10 years:

  • Bankruptcies
*However, the above reporting restrictions do not apply to jobs with an annual salary of $75,000 or more a year (FCRA §605(b)(3)).

What effect has social media had on background checks?

Have you “Googled” yourself lately? If you haven’t, give it a try. Type your name in quotation marks in a couple of the major search engines and see what comes up.

In this information rich age, it’s more and more likely that employers will conduct this same search prior to bringing on a new hire. Some employers will even search social networking sites, like Facebook, for the profiles of applicants. This means an employee’s online reputation can be a factor in swaying the hiring decision-- whether people are aware of it or not. 

So, we encourage everyone (employees and employers) to be aware of what they are putting out on the internet. Imagine your future employer, future employee, best friend or boss viewing the content- what would they think?  

What must employers do to be in compliance before requesting a background check? 

Before you get a background check you must:

  • Tell the applicant or employee
  • Get written permission from the applicant or employee
  • Certify compliance to the company from which you are getting the applicant or employee’s information. 
For more detailed information before using a background check (also known as a “consumer report”), review this helpful information from the Federal Trade Commission. Using Consumer Reports: What Employers Need to Know.
As you can see, it isn’t as simple as just “running a background check”. The process can be more complex and confusing than many employers realize. 
If you outsource your human resources functions to GMS, we can easily manage the background check process (and many other services) for you. Then you can spend more time running your business instead of sorting through legal documents about background checks. Contact us if this sounds like a good plan. 
Happy recruiting!

Photo Credit: "day 307” by Mark Tighe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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