Will a Background Check Show an Employer if a Candidate Was Fired?

When selecting candidates to fill a role, most employers prioritize identifying reliable individuals. With limited exceptions, the goal is to hire someone who can stay with the company beyond a short period—or remain on the hiring treadmill. Evaluating candidates carefully helps you select those individuals best suited for the role. As an employer, the background check process is a key part of this evaluation—but does it reveal everything you need to know?

For example, you may wish to know whether a candidate ever lost their job through outright dismissal. Involuntary termination of employment isn’t always a guaranteed red flag, but learning that your applicant was previously fired may make you doubt their reliability. Just as you want to be sure someone has the experience they claim, you also want to know whether you can trust them to perform at the level you require.

That leads to a big, common question: will the background check you ordered indicate that a previous employer fired the applicant?

Criminal Record Checks Don’t Report Employment History

Most employers or hiring managers think of the process to check for a criminal record when they hear background check, even though the term can encompass extensive services. With that in mind, criminal background checks won’t tell you anything you need to know about employment history. In fact, such reports don’t usually contain any information about where a candidate has worked in the past.

These reports strictly contain information on criminal charges brought against individuals. The presence of a criminal record dated near a period of employment reported on a candidate’s resume could imply that they lost a job because of the charges. However, there’s no guaranteed way to know that simply by ordering a criminal record check. To find out whether a candidate was fired before, you’ll have to go directly to the source.

Ask Directly for More Information

The employment verification process necessitates contacting a candidate’s past employers directly. Ask for information on the last three to four jobs that an individual held when you collect resume information or begin the vetting process. When possible, gather contact information at this early stage to make getting in touch with other employers an easier task.

Note that job-seekers may be very reluctant to disclose jobs that ended in their termination. As a result, you may sometimes see gaps in a candidate’s employment history. Long gaps, especially those of more than a year, should raise some questions. However, there are many other valid reasons for being out of work for a long period—family obligations, an illness, a loss, and so forth. If you see a gap while preparing to verify employment, make a note to discuss the issue with your candidate during an interview.

Once you have the information you need, you’ll have to call the businesses listed by your candidate. 

Will Other Employers Tell You If a Candidate Was Fired?

What you can discover from other employers will vary on a case-by-case basis. Even though many states indemnify companies if they disclose facts on a good-faith basis, many companies will keep their disclosures to a minimum. Most often, you’ll find out information such as a candidate’s dates of service, job description, and job title.

However, there are no state laws or federal protections that say employers can’t tell you when they fired someone. Some may tell you immediately, potentially including the reason for the termination (such as insubordination, chronic lateness, or other reasons). Others may not tell you at all and insist that service dates are all they will provide.

Note that there are some special cases. In some professions, such as nursing, abuse and termination registries exist in some states. These databases may contain information about when candidates were fired, but they are not an ironclad resource. 

Make Sure You Have Consent Before Contacting Employers

Any kind of investigation into a candidate’s background for hiring purposes could potentially fall under the scope of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Since you will likely use a criminal background check when hiring as well, you already must fulfill the “standalone disclosure” and consent requirements in the FCRA. This consent form covers all the investigations you may undertake, including contacting former employers.

However, as a best practice, you should ensure that applicants explicitly consent to you contacting their former employers. You can include this as a check box on an application or as an electronic agreement for digital processes. Individuals may sometimes prefer you not to contact a current employer, as they may not yet know your candidate is on a job hunt. Asking in advance is a simple way to develop goodwill with candidates while covering all your bases.

Your Candidate Was Fired—Now What?

Imagine you or your screening partner contacts a candidate’s former employer, and that company informs you that they did fire the individual. How much should this impact your considerations? The answer will differ between companies and could hinge on what other qualifications the applicant brings to the table. Ultimately, the decision is your prerogative.

Terminations don’t always occur because the candidate was truly at fault. Conflicts, poor matches to company culture, and even potentially improper firings are all possible. If the company tells you a candidate’s reason for separation, take that into account. Otherwise, you may choose to ask the candidate about the issue during an interview or in a follow-up. Of course, moving on to another applicant is also always an option.

Understand What Background Checks and Verifications You Need

Different types of background reports and verifications yield different results. Ultimately, it is a combination of criminal record checks and resume verification services that should comprise a complete employer background check. Don’t miss out on important information by mistakenly assuming that a single report will contain everything you need to know. With support from an experienced agency such as backgroundchecks.com, you can order a robust package of services that offers all you need to know. 

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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