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National Background Checks for Employment: A Complete Guide [2022]

national background check employment

If you’re an employer that only conducts background checks on prospective candidates in your state, you might be left with incomplete information.

Many people travel to or live in other states, so vital information might be located elsewhere.

Did you know that the average American has visited or lived in 12 states?

If you fail to check other jurisdictions in which an applicant has worked, lived, or visited, you might not receive all of the information you need to make a good hiring decision.

Based on our experience conducting background checks for employment nationwide, we’ve written this guide for HR professionals.

Let’s get started.

What is a National Background Check?

It’s important to first note that the term “national background check” is a misnomer as this type of background check doesn’t exist.

At iprospectcheck we offer a national criminal records check, which is a valuable search, but it’s not comprehensive or useful as a stand-alone product.

A national criminal records check searches readily available data that is accumulated over time and is updated with a specific frequency from online jurisdictions, jail and prison rosters, sex offender registries, watch lists, and more.

However, many states and counties do not have available records for this type of search, and their criminal records are not in the national criminal records search at all.

Therefore, a national criminal records check only serves as a starting point to further investigate information at the county and state levels.

Any record found using a national criminal records search must be verified at the source to ensure the maximum possible accuracy of the data.

This type of search is used to find records that, in turn, help us determine where to search for reportable record information but is not a standalone search in and of itself.

This additional search will be completed to ensure that the final report contains complete, accurate and up-to-date information in compliance with local, state and federal laws.

Additionally, some employers mistakenly think an FBI background check is a national background check.

The truth is, individual states provide fingerprint background checks, which search available records by using fingerprints.

For an additional fee, a state can include an FBI fingerprint background check for the remaining 49 states. This is considered an FBI background check.

It’s important to note that the industry an employer operates in must be mandated by the state to use the fingerprint background screening system.

This type of check is not available to consumers.

When Is a Background Check Done for Employment?

The timing of when you can perform a background check for employment might depend on the laws in your state.

While federal law doesn’t restrict you from conducting employment background checks before you extend a job offer, some states have ban-the-box laws that prohibit employers from asking about criminal history information before they extend conditional job offers.

Regardless of where your company is located, waiting until after you have conducted an interview or after you have made a conditional job offer makes sense.

It is more cost-effective to conduct background checks only on the candidates you are seriously considering instead of on every applicant.

To learn about your state’s rules about when you can conduct a pre-employment criminal background check, you should speak with your legal counsel.

Background Check Laws for 2022

Two important federal laws apply to all types of pre-employment background checks, including nationwide criminal records searches.

Individual state and local jurisdictions might also have laws that impact background checks.

Federal Laws on Background Checks

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is an important federal law that protects consumer privacy in the records collected and disseminated by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs).

This law is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and governs both what CRAs can report and how employers can use the information they receive.

Under the FCRA, a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA) cannot report the following types of information for jobs paying less than $75,000 when the information is more than seven years old:

  • Arrests that didn’t result in convictions
  • Civil judgments
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Liens
  • Bankruptcies

These restrictions don’t apply to positions paying more than $75,000.

Conviction information can be reported regardless of age, and the FCRA does not restrict the reporting of information about an applicant’s education and employment history.

The FCRA also applies to employers when they receive background checks that reveal convictions.

Before you decide not to hire an applicant based on negative information revealed in a background check, you must complete the adverse action notification process.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits workplace discrimination based on the protected characteristics of employees and applicants and is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Under Title VII, you must assess a conviction revealed on a background check individually as it relates to the tasks of the job before making a decision not to hire the applicant.

State Laws

There are a variety of different state laws that affect background checks.

According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the following 15 states had ban-the-box laws that apply to private employers as of Oct. 2021:

  • Washington
  • Vermont
  • Rhode Island
  • Oregon
  • New Mexico
  • New Jersey
  • Minnesota
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Maine
  • Illinois
  • Hawaii
  • Connecticut
  • Colorado
  • California

In these states, employers are prohibited from asking about criminal history information on job applications. When this type of information can be requested varies.

Some states require employers to wait until after an applicant has been interviewed, after an applicant has been found to be otherwise qualified, or after a conditional job offer has been extended.

In addition, NELP reports that 37 states and 150 local governments have ban-the-box laws that apply to public sector employers. In addition, 22 cities have ban-the-box laws that cover private-sector employers.

What Does a National Background Check Include?

What you might see on a background check report will depend on the types of reports you ask for.

Most employers ask for the following types of information:

Let’s take a look at what you might see in some of these reports.

Criminal background check for employment

On a national criminal background check for employment, you might see the following types of information about convictions an applicant has:

  • Offense date
  • Type of offense
  • Offense level (misdemeanor/felony)
  • Date of disposition
  • Disposition
  • Some sentencing information may be available

If an applicant has expunged or sealed convictions, information about those cases will not be reported.

Education history

In addition to a national background check for employment, most employers ask for education verification.

This type of report helps you confirm the educational claims your applicant has made on the resume or application.

On an education verification, you will see the following information about the schools your candidate has attended:

  • Name, address, and location
  • Attendance dates
  • Any diplomas, degrees, or certificates awarded

Employment verification

Requesting employment verifications allows you to verify your applicants’ employment history information.

On this type of report, the following information will appear for each of your applicant’s past positions:

  • Name and address of each former employer
  • Employment dates
  • Positions/titles held

This type of report allows you to see whether an applicant has been honest and has the experience needed to perform the job.

How to Get a Nationwide Criminal Background Check

The FBI offers the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system includes criminal conviction records uploaded from various courts and states across the country.

However, only federal firearms licensees (FFLs) can access this system under 28 CFR § 25.6. FFLs can only access the NICS database in connection with a customer’s application to purchase a firearm and not for pre-employment background check purposes.

Under 28 CFR § 25.11, an FFL’s abuse of the system to query for pre-employment checks or access to the NICs database by an unauthorized person can result in a fine of $10,000 and other penalties.

This means you cannot check NICs for a nationwide criminal background check.

The FBI also manages the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which is reserved for use by authorized law enforcement agencies.

This system includes information about an individual’s felony or serious misdemeanor convictions and other data. However, it is not available to most employers.

The best way to get a nationwide criminal background check is to work with a reliable background check company like iprospectcheck.

We have access to databases and court systems in every county and many states and can quickly return FCRA-compliant reports so that you can make informed hiring decisions.

How Long Does a Background Check Take?

How long it will take to conduct a background check will vary based on how you go about trying to gather the information.

If you send requests to every jurisdiction, it could take weeks to receive the information.

Some employers attempt a DIY approach to background checks by conducting online searches and sending requests to numerous agencies.

However, this approach might return out-of-date, inaccurate, and incomplete information, and the reports might not comply with the requirements of the FCRA.

When you work with iprospectcheck, you can benefit from our extensive resources. We can quickly return FCRA-compliant background check reports in as few as a couple of hours.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Partner for Employment Background Checks

Checking information sources in every county and each state in which an applicant has lived or worked can help you uncover convictions a candidate might have from other jurisdictions.

However, it should only be one component of a comprehensive pre-employment background check.

At iprospectcheck, we conduct employment background checks that include county, state, and federal records to help our clients make informed hiring decisions.

Call today to learn more about our employment screening solutions or to get a free quote: 1-888-808-9997

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

Know Before You Hire

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.