What Happens If You Fail a Background Check

A failed background check is a concern for many job seekers, whether or not they have criminal histories.

Most often, to fail a background check is to be disqualified from the hiring process. However, because there are few objective standards for a passed or failed background check, there can be some confusion about what to expect when you submit to screening. Below, we explain some of the factors that can lead to a failed background screening and what you can do to improve your chances of passing.

How to Fail a Background Check

What does it mean to fail a background check?

There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes passing a background check. What may be acceptable in one job may be unacceptable in another. Employers are required to disqualify job candidates for certain convictions. For instance, if you have two DUI convictions on your record, you will be disqualified from any job that requires driving. Employment screening is not a test or examination for objective criteria for "passing" or "failing" exist.

A background check may reveal various details about a candidate's past, including criminal history, civil court history, educational and employment history. Any of these categories of information could serve as a "red flag," depending on the employer and position. Employers seek convictions that are directly related to the job's responsibilities. For instance, a bank may revoke a job offer to a candidate if the bank learns of the candidate's embezzlement conviction. The hiring manager and their team are ultimately responsible for determining whether they are comfortable hiring someone despite red flags.

The most critical thing to realize regarding passing or failing a background check is that every employer has slightly different standards. Some employers are willing to hire candidates with criminal histories. Others are more hesitant to do so. Some employers run a wide variety of checks, including criminal history, employment history, education verification, driving history, and credit history. Other employers only perform criminal history checks. Because of these factors, it can be difficult to predict the outcome of a background screening.

Reasons you may fail a background check

What causes a red flag on a background check? Here are a few reasons why a potential employer may determine that you have “failed” your background screening.

You may have a conviction on your record (that is directly relevant to the job at hand)

Usually, simply having a criminal record doesn’t mean that you fail a background check. Because of guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are expected to assess the relevance of the criminal activity to the job at hand before making an adverse hiring decision.

As such, if you are applying for a data entry job and have a five-year-old drug charge on your record, you probably won’t be disqualified from job consideration. Your criminal activity does not have much relevance to the position for which you are applying. On the other hand, if you are applying for a delivery driver job and have a two-year-old DUI conviction, you are likely to fail the background check and be denied the job opportunity. In the eyes of the employer, your DUI directly inhibits your ability to perform the job, and it flags you as a risky hire.

You lied on your resume

Many employers run verification searches to check the information on your resume. The college you attended, degree(s) you received, GPA, job titles and responsibilities, employment dates, skills, professional licenses: all these things are fair game in a verification check.

If you lied or stretched the truth on your resume, there is a good chance that your employer will uncover it. Getting caught in a lie will almost always qualify as failing a background check. In fact, lying on your resume and an employer discovering that lie in a background check is more likely to lose you a job opportunity than not having all the experience or degrees that the job description demands.

You have other red flags

Even if you don’t have a criminal history and are 100 percent honest on your resume, you can still fail a background check. That’s because employers will sometimes look elsewhere to learn more about you. This type of broader search can turn up details about you that raise questions about your ability to perform the job in the eyes of the hiring manager.

For example, if you are applying for a job that involves managing a company’s finances, but your credit history check reveals debt and missed payments, that might impact your hiring chances. The hiring manager might see your poor credit as a sign of irresponsibility or carelessness in managing your personal finances, which in turn won’t reflect positively on your ability to manage company finances.

Similarly, if you are applying for a driving job and your driving history check shows a dozen speeding tickets, you are likely to fail the background check in the employer’s eyes. Your driving history shows carelessness or recklessness that the employer will see as a liability.

You won’t face all these checks at every job, and these red flags won’t always be significant considerations for all employers. A hiring manager considering you for a desk job in an office environment likely won’t care much about your speeding tickets. However, when the red flags are relevant to the position, they do carry weight.

Your potential employer made a mistake

If you disagree about the inclusion of a criminal record in your background report, consult your employer. While background check companies pull data from public records, an employer makes the decision regarding whether the identifying criteria on the record matches the applicant. Sometimes, an employer may accidentally add an out-of-date record or a record that is not relevant to that candidate.

Because of these factors, it is possible to fail a background check for criminal history or other data that doesn’t apply to you. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers must provide you with a copy of the background report and a written explanation of any adverse action that they are taking against you. If your prospective employers comply with the FCRA, you should have a chance to argue your case if you believe that you are being denied a position wrongfully.

So, you failed a background check - what's next?

Usually, failing an employment screening will mean that you need to find a different job. An offense or red flag that leads to disqualification from one hiring process might not have the same impact everywhere. Some employers are more lenient and are willing to give candidates second chances. Keep in mind that no employer can deny all candidates with a criminal history automatically, or they will face discrimination claims.

If you want to increase your chances of passing your next employment screening, here are a few things that you can do.

  1. Run a background check on yourself: Conducting a background screening on yourself gives you the chance to see what prospective employers may see when they look at your history. If there are records on your report that don’t apply to you, you can fix those issues before they cost you a job opportunity.
  2. Understand which jobs you are unlikely to get: Certain crimes or offenses make it hard to find jobs in certain fields. For instance, a sex offender can’t hold a job that involves working with children, and someone with a violent criminal history is unlikely to pass an employment screening for a customer service job. If you have a criminal history, do some homework online to gain a more thorough understanding of the types of jobs that are longshots for you. That way, you can focus your energy on applying for the jobs that you are more likely to get.
  3. Be honest: Don’t embellish your resume. Don’t lie in interviews. If the job application asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime, don’t answer “No” if the answer is “Yes.” Your chances of passing any background screening—be it a verification check or a criminal history search—go up significantly when you are honest and forthright. Many professionals have failed a background check simply because they told a lie on a resume.
  4. Consider expungement: If you have a criminal record that is making it more difficult for you to find employment, it may be worth exploring the process of expungement. Depending on the type of offense(s) on your record, you may be eligible to apply to have the records sealed or expunged.

Sealed records are generally only accessible to law enforcement agencies and won’t show up on most background reports, while expunged records are scrubbed from your record. Particularly for misdemeanors or older offenses, expungement may be the best way to get yourself a clean slate.

At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a program called MyClearStart that helps individuals to pursue expungement or record sealing. You can take an eligibility test today to determine whether you are a candidate for expungement.

How to manage a failed background check after a job offer

In many jurisdictions, employers must follow “ban the box” legislation when designing their hiring process and screening policy. The “box” in ban the box refers to the question on a job application that asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime. This question usually comes with a “check yes or no” box. Ban the box laws make it illegal for employers to ask about criminal history on job applications or in job interviews.

Often, these laws also bar employers from conducting background checks until after they have made a conditional job offer. The job offer is “conditional” because it depends on the outcome of the background screening. The employer still has the right to rescind the job offer and deny you employment if the background check gives them reasonable (and legal) cause to take adverse action.

If you failed a background check after a job offer, then the chances are high that your prospective employer found something in your history that called into question your ability to perform the job at hand.

What happens if you fail a background check after a job offer?

Remember that the FCRA requires employers to 1) notify you if they are taking adverse action against you based on background check findings, 2) provide you with a copy of the background check report, and 3) give you a chance to contest the findings of the background check. If you failed a background check after a job offer (or even before a job offer), make sure that the employer is respecting your rights under the FCRA. If they are not, then you may have a case for a lawsuit.

Many well-known companies have faced legal trouble in recent years for maintaining a screening policy that violates the FCRA. Employers must pay close attention to the nuances of the FCRA to avoid legal fallout.

How to know if you failed your check?

How do you know if you’ve failed an employer background check? The requirements of the FCRA ensure that you will not be left wondering about the outcome of your background check.

In most cases, employers only run background checks on candidates they are planning to hire. If you pass the background check, you will likely be hired. If you fail the background check, you will be notified and (as outlined above) furnished with a copy of the background check report, as well as a written explanation for the adverse action. Per the FCRA, you should have time to review these documents and respond before the decision is final.

“Can I dispute a failed background check?” It is a common question among job seekers, and the answer is yes. Per the FCRA, employers are required to notify candidates and give them a chance to respond before taking adverse action. If you have reason to believe that you are unfairly disqualified based on background check findings, you can dispute that information with the employer or the background check company.

For instance, if your failed background check is due to a criminal conviction that was expunged, you can contact the background check company to inform them that the information in question should not have been in your database. You can also explain the situation to the employer. If the conviction in question was truly expunged, the employer cannot legally use that information to move forward with adverse action that disqualifies you from employment or removes your job offer.

To learn more about background checks and the complexities of passing and failing them, visit the backgroundchecks.com Learning Center.


Get monthly updates on  background check news, industry trends, and changes in laws and regulations.

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

More Like This Post