What to Do When You Fail a Background Check

When job seekers fail a background check, they might miss their chance at a desirable role. For many applicants, the risk of a failed background check is a significant concern. Understanding how this happens and why is necessary. You should know what to expect and understand your rights. The decision isn’t personal, though it can feel that way. Employers use vetting to protect themselves and the public.

There aren’t objective, published standards for how to evaluate a background check. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission publishes some guidance. However, the decision is ultimately in the hands of an employer. As a result, job applicants often face a confusing situation when they agree to screening. They may not understand how or why they could fail the background check.

Here, we’ll examine what might cause an employer to disqualify an applicant. We’ll also examine some strategies for navigating future job screenings and consider your rights. Here are the critical things to know.

What does it mean to fail a background check?

If you “fail” a background check, an employer will likely decide not to hire you because of the screening process. What that means in practice can vary from person to person. Even between businesses, there is no universal definition for an acceptable background check. There are sometimes laws that require organizations to fail specified applicants automatically. For example, sex offenses may create a permanent barrier to jobs in childcare.

A concerning criminal history is the most common reason for a failed background check. However, it’s far from the only possible explanation. Background checks examine many sources of information. Based on the job, an employer might consider the following:

  • Criminal history
  • Civil court history
  • Educational credentials
  • Employment history
  • Driving records
  • Credit report

Employers might find “red flags” in any of these areas. A “red flag” is a potential problemconcerning the job. An embezzlement conviction might be a red flag to a hiring manager at a bank. A violent assault might raise concerns in an application for customer service employment. Each business evaluates the facts according to its standards. Unless the law requires a disqualification, employers decide on their own what’s acceptable. Because of these factors, a background check may fail for many reasons.

How do you fail a criminal background check?

Failing to pass a criminal background check might happen for many reasons. Regardless, merely having a record in your background doesn’t automatically mean you’ll fail. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that could be discriminatory. Instead, the EEOC advises employers to consider several factors. Each criminal record should undergo this assessment. The factors are as follows:

  • How much time has passed since the conviction?
  • Whether there were further offenses after that.
  • How severe the crime was.
  • Whether the conviction is for a crime related to the role applied for.

Different employers apply these factors in diverse ways. Let’s use an example. Consider someone who applies for a data entry job. Their record has a drug conviction from five years ago. An employer might assess that this is an old, minor issue. It doesn’t relate to the job, and the applicant doesn’t seem a high risk. That applicant might pass their background check to get the job.

Let’s say that instead of a drug charge, the crime was financial in nature. The applicant has a conviction for using a computer to misappropriate funds. In this case, a hiring manager might conclude that the job could offer a chance to re-offend.

This example illustrates how companies evaluate risk. Very violent crimes or high-level felonies are more likely to be disqualifying. Registration as a sex offender may be an outright barrier in some industries. Ultimately, each employer decides what is acceptable on their own terms.

What are other background check red flags?

Understanding that may help you prepare for a successful job application. Let’s discuss a few other reasons why an employer might decide you “failed” the background check.

Reason: Your resume contains false or inaccurate information

Many employers take steps to verify the information on your resume. Most often, this relates to confirming education and employment history. Employers do this to verify your suitability and trustworthiness. During this process, employers might seek to confirm:

If you weren’t truthful about these items, an employer may discover it. Lying on your resume could cause you to fail the background check. To avoid a failed education verification, be clear about the facts. Do the same with job history; don’t exaggerate the truth.

Reason: Other verifications identified problematic issues.

You might still fail a background check even with a clean criminal history and a clear resume. Sometimes, employers will consider additional information to assess your risk level. You might fail the screening process at this stage.

For example, some jobs may require a credit check. Such requirements usually apply to jobs of great financial responsibility. A credit check may occur if the job will give you access to cash or business accounts. Hiring managers may see poor credit and high debt loads as potential risk factors for theft.

Jobs involving driving are similar. The Department of Transportation will check your MVR or driving record. DUIs, reckless driving, and other citations could disqualify you from such a position. These same issues may not be relevant at all to other jobs. However, a hiring manager may use this information in these special cases.

Reason: The employer may have made a mistake

When an employer informs you that your background check disqualified you, they must share the report with you. You may disagree about the inclusion of a specific record in your report. Maybe it was previously expunged or sealed, but the record on the report is out of date. Background checks come from public record sources so employers can make informed decisions.

An employer may not always know if a record shouldn’t have factored into their choice. Other issues could also be at play, such as mistaken identity. Although rare, people may share names and birthdays, which could cause confusion in records. Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers must explain the adverse action they take. Under the FCRA, employers need to give you time to dispute the findings of their background check.

What’s Next When You Fail a Background Check?

Failing a background check usually means the end of the application process. Applicants should move on to another job opportunity and try again. Some employers may make different decisions based on the same reports. Others openly advertise “second chance” opportunities.

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

Run a background check on yourself

Checking your own report lets you see what employers see. This check is an excellent way to ensure your record contains what you expect. If you find information you believe shouldn’t be there, you can contact screening services for further assistance.

Apply for jobs with your history in mind

Try to anticipate which jobs a criminal background may prevent you from attaining. Sex offenders won’t find work at schools or as caretakers. A violent criminal past might make it hard to get a job as an in-home service technician. Remember, employers consider whether convictions relate to the job. Use that knowledge to target applications.

Be honest in the process

Don’t embellish your resume. Don’t lie in interviews. Tell the truth if the job application asks if you have a criminal history. Early disclosure in such cases may strengthen your cause. Many professionals have failed a background check simply because they told a lie on a resume.

Explore expungement or record sealing

If a criminal record makes finding a job difficult, you may wish to explore expungement. In many states, you can remove some convictions from your record after some time. Sometimes, sealing happens automatically. In other states, you must petition the courts to seal your record.

Generally, only law enforcement can see sealed records. They don’t appear in background checks. An expunged record functionally never existed. Expungement is often available in some states for misdemeanors and some felonies.

At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a program called MyClearStart that helps individuals pursue this process. 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

Many companies today don’t do background checks until they make a conditional offer of employment. In other words, they select you as a candidate for the job, provided you pass the screening first. What happens if you fail a background check after such an offer?

Remember, the FCRA requires employers to take some steps. They must first notify you that your background was the basis of adverse action. They must then provide you with a copy of the report and a chance to respond. If you failed screening after an offer, know your rights under the FCRA. Employers must follow these rules or risk lawsuits. You should initiate a dispute as soon as possible if you believe the decision was in error.

The requirements of the FCRA ensure that you won’t have to wonder about the outcome of your background check.

How to dispute a failed background check

You can dispute that information with the employer if you believe your disqualification was in error. The employer must then work with their background check company to confirm the original finding.

If an employer took adverse action based on an expunged conviction, you should inform the employer. They will also share that with their screening partner. That partner may then seek out additional records to verify your claims. If there is an error, the employer may reverse their hiring decision.

Many job applicants worry about what they will do if they fail a background check. Even if one employer declines to hire an individual with a record, another may not make the same decision. Applicants should understand their rights and know what employers consider in the process. With that knowledge, you can approach job-seeking with greater confidence. Want to learn more about how employer background checks work? Visit our Learning Center for additional information on other topics, including the FCRA and EEOC.

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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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