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Pre-Employment Screening & The FCRA

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March 24, 2009 Return to News & Events

Employment Screening Background Checks & FCRA Compliance

The staff at has heard from human resources managers, individuals and other corporate personnel throughout the United States regarding issues pertaining to employment screening practices.  What we have found is that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty regarding the FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) and what real life employment screening practices need to do to remain or become compliant. The top issues on this list include how to appropriately use public records like criminal background checks in the business world, how to protect yourself from applicant fraud, and how to ensure that your company has procedures compliant with applicable law relating to hiring, firing or promoting of employees primarily as defined in the FCRA.  This article addresses these concerns and demonstrates why using a background check provider like is a wise choice in today’s market place.  The availability and feasibility of quality criminal background checks, along with social security validation, gives employers the ability to effectively screen applicants within their desired timeframe demanded by the industry.

Today there is another tool available to employers in addition to criminal background checks.   This tool is the social security number & address history trace.  This important new component to a sound employment screening model is known as an SSN Trace, SSN Validation, or SSN Check.  This quick search can determine if the SSN being used by an applicant is in fact valid, and to ensure that this applicant is in truth who they claim to be.  Performing a criminal background check today in conjunction with an SSN Validation and address history trace is a wise choice. 

Commonly asked Employment Screening Questions:

  • Do all employers need to have applicants or employees sign a release form before performing a background check?  YES, and must give disclosure (FCRA - 1681B).
  • If an applicant/employee requests to review a copy of their criminal background record, does the employer need to show or provide a copy of the criminal record to the applicant?  NO, under federal law you are not required too, unless there is an adverse action.  However, state laws vary; for instance Massachusetts Law gives all employees full access to their files at their place of employment.
  • If an employer takes adverse action on an applicant or employee because of a criminal background check, does the employer need to give notice stating that a criminal background check has adversely affected them? YES, employers must notify the applicant.
  • Are employers required to keep criminal background checks on file?  Currently this is up to the judgment of the employer.
  • Knowing that a county criminal search is the most trusted criminal history check available in the USA today, why do employers run instant state or instant national criminal background checks first and not county checks?  Coverage - They want a larger area covered to enhance their chances of finding a record if in fact one exists.  Speed - A county search can take days to complete and in order to not create a bottleneck in employment screening processes, the faster searches are preferred.  NOTE:  The quality of instant criminal searches has dramatically improved over the years.  Statewide instant criminal background checks & the National instant criminal background check if accessed through a provider like are now very reliable.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) & Background Checks (Public Records) for Employment Purposes
(Sections 604, 606, & 615 of the FCRA explain the responsibilities of using consumer reports for employment purposes.) adheres to part 2 of section 613 of the FCRA (a site owned and operated by Information Enterprises Inc.) has customers that use its criminal background checks for employment purposes.  For such customers the site maintains strict procedures to ensure that whenever a criminal history record is found in conjunction with legitimate employment purposes, that it is confirmed through a county background check to ensure that the record in question is in fact current and accurate.  These policies are in place so that employers can be confident that the criminal information they are receiving is both complete and current.

The FCRA is designed primarily to protect the privacy of consumer report information and to guarantee that the information supplied by consumer reporting agencies is as accurate as possible. Amendments to the FCRA — which went into effect September 30, 1997 — significantly increase the legal obligations of employers who use consumer reports. Congress expanded employer responsibilities because of concern that inaccurate or incomplete consumer reports could cause applicants to be denied jobs or cause employees to be denied promotions unjustly. The amendments ensure (1) that individuals are aware that consumer reports may be used for employment purposes and agree to such use, and (2) that individuals are notified promptly if information in a consumer report may result in a negative employment decision.   Federal Trade Commission – Details and URL found at the bottom of this document

Most of today’s employers perform criminal background checks on their applicants.  They also pull other consumer reports as part of their pre-employment screening processes.  And some employers even perform background checks on current employees (usually for reassignment, promotion or retention purposes).  Not all employers are the same, for instance; one employer may only want a reference check while others may want to see driving records and criminal history reports.  For security jobs or high level positions usually an investigative consumer report will be ordered.  This report differs from the others in one key aspect; it includes interviews with the applicant’s friends, neighbors, and associates which addresses the very character of the person.  An investigative consumer report has separate legal issues concerning it.  These investigative reports have stricter compliance issues than regular consumer reports like credit checks or criminal history checks and therefore have specific guidelines associated with them that are spelled out in the FCRA (You can read them in Section 606 - Disclosure of investigative consumer reports). actively incorporates compliance issues into its product offering, and constantly is enhancing the quality of its background reports.  A sound screening policy that we would recommend to employers is to run a social security validation check along with a statewide or national criminal check first and then if a record is found (that would adversely effect the applicant) to then run a county search where the record was found in.  This ensures you are getting the most accurate and complete record available before making any employment related decisions based in part or in whole by the public record information we provided.

Bundled Employment Screening Background Check Packages are now available from and include combinations of varying criminal background checks and a social security validation & address history trace.  Each option includes a free National Sex Offender Check, Terrorist Database Search & USA Most Wanted List Search.  Please visit us online at: where you can become a member for free and start accessing quality criminal background checks today, over the Internet in minutes!

If you are interested in reading more about employment screening background checks practices and the use of consumer reports; we recommend that you, employers, and human resource professionals throughout the United States read the following article from the Federal Trade Commission under “Facts for Businesses” titled:  “Using Consumer Reports:  What Employers Need to Know” found at the following URL:

This has been a News Publication - All rights reserved is “An Information Enterprises Solution”


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