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Background Check Terms and Definitions: Your A-Z Guide

employment background check

Below is a list of some of the most common background check terms you may have encountered or may encounter in the future:


  • Adjudication. Automating a judgment based on the outcome of a background screening. The judgment usually results in “meets requirements” or “does not meet requirements.”
  • Adjudication Guilty. This is a conviction. It takes place when the defendant is found guilty of the charges.
  • Adjudication Withheld. This is a non-conviction. It takes place when the court does not issue a final judgment regarding a case. Instead, the defendant receives probation or community service.
  • Adulterated Specimen. A specimen that contains a foreign substance that should not be present in human urine.
  • Applicant Tracking System. Also known as ATS, it is any system that manages an organization’s job posting and provides data collection that matches candidates to positions.
  • ARD Program. Short for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program. This non-conviction program is a substitute for adjudication and provides supervision (similar to probation) to defendants.
  • Adverse Action. Adverse action is relevant to pre-tenancy and pre-employment screening. If an employer issues a background check for an applicant, and that background check impacts the employer’s decision to hire the candidate, the company has the right to take adverse action, which may mean refusing to hire the candidate.


  • Ball / Bon Forfeiture. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the court determines that there is too little evidence to convict a person, and elects to drop the charges instead.
  • Blind Specimen. This refers to a specimen provided for a laboratory to test. Created for quality control purposes, the specimen has a “fictitious identifier” so that the lab can’t tell the difference between said specimen and employee specimens.


  • Canceled Test. A drug or alcohol test with an uncorrectable problem. A canceled test is neither a positive or a negative test.
  • CFPB. Short for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A United States government agency charged with overseeing consumer protection, specifically in the financial sector. The CFPB oversees background screening.
  • Chain of Custody. A procedure that keeps track of who handles a urine specimen, from the time the employee provides the specimen to the collection lab until the lab destroys the specimen.
  • Collection Site. A place where the employee presents himself or herself to provide a urine sample for drug testing purposes.
  • Conditional Discharge. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the court finds a defendant not guilty and discharges him or her from the trial, based on the condition that the defendant follows conditions set forth by the court.
  • Confirmation Drug Test. A follow-up procedure implemented on a urine specimen to determine and identify the existence of a particular drug.
  • Confirmation Validity Test. A follow-up test implemented on a urine sample to provide more information for a first validity test.
  • Confirmed Drug Test. A test result received by a Medical Review Office from a laboratory, which confirms the presence of a particular drug or drugs.
  • Consent Decree. A conviction that is specific to juvenile cases. In a consent decree, the defendant enters a guilty plea in exchange for six months’ probation.
  • Consortium / Third-party administrator. Also called a C/TPA. This is a third-party service that helps coordinate alcohol and drug testing with employers.
  • Consumer. The consumer is the individual who will be background-checked or screened as a potential employee.
  • Consumer Reporting Agency. Also known as CRA, this is a bureau that collects and issues information about individuals to employers, creditors, and landlords.
  • Cost-per-Hire. A standard measure used in human resources. It is used to evaluate costs acquired in onboarding new employees.


  • Dead Docket. This is a non-conviction, which means that there is not enough evidence to prove that the defendant is guilty or innocent.
  • Deferred Adjudication / Judgment. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the case will be dismissed as long as the defendant complies with actions provided by the court.
  • Dilute Specimen. A specimen with creatinine and specific gravity levels that are significantly lower than what is considered a normal level for human urine.
  • Dismissed. When a case is dismissed, it means that the court has chosen to dismiss the lawsuit without finding evidence of guilt, and without issuing a conviction for the defendant. Dismissed cases remain on a person’s criminal record.
  • Disposition. The disposition is the court’s final decision in a case.
  • Dispute. If a pre-employment background check reveals data that is false or inaccurate, the consumer has the right to dispute that information.


  • Equal Employment Opportunity. A series of employment proceedings that the EEOC regulates. According to these regulations, “individuals cannot be excluded from any participation, advancements, or benefits due to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or any other action that cannot lawfully be the basis for the employment action.”
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal agency that establishes statues designed to eliminate discrimination in hiring.
  • eRecruiting. Refers to any type of recruiting method that takes place online.
  • Extended Workforce. An extended workforce is that portion of a company’s workforce that includes independent contractors, vendors, and temporary workers.
  • Expungement.  A court-ordered process that legally seals or erases an individual’s legal record.
  • E-Verify- A federally managed web-based system that helps U.S. employers remain compliant with employment guidelines by confirming the eligibility of their applicants and employees to work legally within the U.S.


  • Fair Credit Reporting Act. Also referred to as the FCRA, it protects employees and candidates, as well as companies. The FCRA governs all companies that conduct pre-employment screens, as well as employers that utilize background-screening services.
  • Form I9. A Federal form that allows appointees to verify and attest to their legal residency or U.S. Citizenship.
  • Federal Criminal Record. This includes crimes that happen across state lines, involve federal law, or take place on federal property. Each of these cases is heard in a federal court of law.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC oversees FCRA compliance to ensure fairness and transparency for both employers and candidates.


  • Guilty in Absentia. This is a conviction. It means that the jury issued a guilty verdict against a defendant, even though the defendant did not appear in court.


  • HR-XML. An operating language developed by members of the human resources community. All members agree to use simple definitions to ease the automated transfer between organizations of all HR-related data.


  • Ignored. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the case did not go to trial. Instead, the state ignored it.
  • Indictment. An indictment is a formal accusation, which generally begins the hearings for a criminal case. Indictments are issued by a grand jury and are commonly associated with serious crimes such as felonies.


  • Management Reports. Management reports are documents that display activity in a pre-screening report.
  • Medical Review Officer. A Medical Review Officer (MRO) is a licensed physician responsible for receiving and reviewing lab results generated by an employer’s drug-testing program.
  • Misdemeanor Intervention Program. This is a non-conviction. A misdemeanor intervention program is a program designed to apply to people who would otherwise be charged with misdemeanor offenses. The program allows them to avoid being convicted, as long as they are willing to comply with other conditions.


  • No-Papered. This is a non-conviction that arises when the District Attorney neglects to send the proper paperwork to the courts, which thus prevents the filing of the case.
  • Nolle Prosse. This is Latin for “not prosecuted” and is a non-conviction that takes place when there is not enough evidence to convict a defendant.
  • Nolo Contendere. A plea issued by a defendant, which accepts conviction as though they had issued a guilty plea. Despite this, the defendant does not admit guilt.
  • No Bill. A No Bill occurs when a Grand Jury does is unable to find enough evidence of a crime to pursue the case further.


  • Other. Non-conviction – the defendant is given special provisions for one year to abide since this is his or her first offense. The case closes if no violation occurs during that year.


  • Prayer for Judgment. This only happens in North Carolina. A prayer for judgment allows someone to plead guilty and request a Prayer for Judgement, which means the offense won’t be entered into the record against the defendant.
  • Pre-Adverse Action. Pre-adverse action notifications must be sent to an applicant by a company before the company decides to take adverse action. The pre-adverse action notice informs the applicant that the company is taking adverse action, such as denying employment or promotion.
  • Pre-employment screening. Includes background screening, drug screening, skills assessment, and behavioral assessment.
  • Pre-integrated. Pre-integrated software solutions have been developed, tested, built, and proven jointly before they are released to the public.
  • Pre-trial Intervention / Diversion. A non-conviction program made available to a defendant before he or she goes to trial. The defendant is given a program to follow before the trial. If the defendant adheres to the program, the trial is canceled, and the defendant is not convicted.
  • Primary Specimen. In drug testing, this term refers to a urine specimen bottle that is tested first.
  • Process Other. A non-conviction that happens when a defendant is charged with one count in place of another.


  • Rejected. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the case does not go to trial because the state denied the hearing of the case.
  • Responsible. This is a non-conviction. It happens when a defendant is not found guilty but must pay the fines or fees of the crime.


  • Stet Docket. This is a non-conviction. It happens when the court chooses not to prosecute the case. The case is eligible to be reopened after one year if a violation is committed during that time.
  • Stricken Off Leave. This is a non-conviction. It happens when investigators strike the case from the docket. In cases like these, the courts maintain the right to open the case again later, if it is deemed that prosecution is an option.
  • Substituted Specimen. A specimen with creatinine and specific gravity values that are diluted enough that they do not resemble human urine.


  • Time-to-hire. A common phrase used in human resources to measure the time it takes to fill an open position, usually measured from the point the job request is submitted to when the new employee walks in the door.
  • True Bill. The True Bill is the written decision of a Grand Jury. It is signed personally by the Grand Jury foreperson. It states that the Grand Jury has heard enough evidence that it believes the accused person likely committed the crime and should be indicted accordingly. The indictment is then sent to the court.


  • Verified Test. A drug test result or validity testing result from a certified lab.


  • Waived. This is a conviction. It means that the defendant has waived his or her rights to trial and has pled guilty.

Need Help With Your Background Screening Program?

If you want to be as efficient as possible when background-checking candidates, the first step is to understand this glossary for background check terms.

If you are looking to improve your background screening process, contact us today for a complimentary consultation. We pride ourselves on providing fast, accurate, FCRA compliant solutions for employers nationwide.

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.