Most pre-employment background checks focus on criminal history. In the course of conducting these checks, the employer—or, more accurately, the background check provider running the check for the employer—will often reach out to county, state, or federal courts. These court communications are a means of obtaining criminal records that pertain to the candidate. However, there is another type of court record check that background check companies can perform: civil court records.
A civil history check is fundamentally different from a criminal history check. Criminal charges or convictions are as viewed as crimes against the state and are brought by government prosecutors. Civil cases are different. A matter in civil court is brought not by the state but rather directly by the alleged victim or wronged party in the case. When someone sues another person for an alleged wrongdoing, that case is recorded as part of a civil court’s records.
What is returned in a civil history background check? The answer depends on the type of civil search. At backgroundchecks.com, we offer two types of civil history background checks: county and federal. Matters filed in a county civil court would show up on a county check, while matters heard at a higher level (a U.S. District Court) would show up on a federal civil history check.
The types of cases heard in county and federal civil courts vary significantly. A county civil court will typically have the authority to hear cases that pertain to matters of local or state law. Matters involving contracts, discrimination, eviction, car accidents, personal injury, nonpayment for goods, consumer rights, and product liability would typically be handled by a county civil court. The same is true for probate court cases or family law matters, including estate disputes, divorce, child support, and child custody. A civil history check run at a county court level would find any claims, suits, or judgments involving the subject of the background check report—whether the candidate was the plaintiff or the defendant.
Federal civil records include different types of cases. A civil history check looking at the federal level would pull records concerning the candidate that were heard in a U.S. District Court. Any case involving the government—including the federal government, state governments, or county and municipal governments—will be heard at this level.
If a job candidate previously sued the government over a violation of constitutional rights, that case would be returned through a search of the appropriate U.S. District Court. Similarly, if the government sued a business owner over a violation of federal regulations, that case would show up on a federal civil history check. Other matters involving civil rights, interstate commerce, tax disputes, financial institutions, government regulations, and civilian-government disputes would also show up on this type of background check.
Contrary to popular belief, bankruptcy information is not among the details returned in a civil background check. Bankruptcies are typically handled by U.S. federal districts in a separate court from civil cases. As a result, searching for this information will require a different type of background check.