Background Check Laws by State

Adding a state-level criminal background check is one of the most effective ways for employers to expand their employment background screening processes. Most crimes are committed, tried, and filed near where the subject lives and works. A smaller number of crimes occur in the same state but in a county where the subject doesn’t reside, and an even smaller number occur across state lines.

For these reasons, most employers start the background check process by running criminal history searches at the county level. Targeting the county where your business is based and where your prospective employee will be working is the most natural first step for a criminal background check. Address history checks can follow, providing an easy way to supplement an initial criminal history search with additional checks in counties where your candidate has worked in the past.

What happens if your candidate has committed a crime outside of the counties where they’ve lived and worked? A state criminal background check is the answer. Each state has a repository of criminal history information containing records from its counties. Counties report into these repositories on an ongoing basis, creating larger databases of criminal background information that span a wider geography than an individual county-level search.

County criminal background checks still have their value. Because most crimes are filed at the county level, a county search will always find the most up-to-date information about criminal history in that county. Not all counties report to state repositories reliably, and even the counties that do may not make daily or weekly reports.

Along with county checks, a state records search can provide peace of mind to employers by widening the scope of the background check process. At, we are proud to offer a state background check solution for all 50 states.

Employment Background Check Laws by State

Before you start exploring state-level criminal records, understand that not every state has the same background check laws. If your background check process will span multiple states, such as for a candidate who recently moved from one state to another, you may encounter very different background check rules.

Arrest records are one area where there is significant variance from one state to the next. Some states allow employers to consider arrest records when making hiring decisions and allow criminal background checks to report arrest records. Other states ban the consideration of arrest records for employment purposes. Some states fall in between, barring the use of arrest records that have been expunged, sealed, or dismissed but labeling others as fair game during the hiring process.

At, because we provide background check reports from so many counties and states across the country, we exclude arrest history information from all our background check reports. This exclusion helps to protect the employers using our reports as they make hiring decisions, as they may not be familiar with the specific ways that background check laws vary from one state to another.

We also provide educational resources to help our customers understand variations in background check laws and how those variations can impact the hiring process. Explore our free white paper “Employment Background Checks and the Use of Arrest Records by State” to learn how the rules in your state differ from another state that you are including in a personnel background check.

State laws can differ in other ways, too—examples include the following.

  • How far back background checks can go: Many states follow a seven-year lookback period for most criminal history information and many other types of background check information. In these states, adverse information (including crimes) cannot be reported after an offense is more than seven years old. Other states have 10-year limits, and some have no limits at all. Read our post “How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?” to learn more.

  • Ban the box: Many states now have a “ban the box” law on the books. In these states, it is illegal for employers to ask about criminal history on a job application. Many states with these laws have other associated restrictions in place, too, such as requirements for employers to delay a criminal background check until after making a conditional job offer. Read our white paper or Learning Center page on ban the box to learn how these laws work and what they mean in different parts of the country. Note that many cities, counties, and municipalities have adopted their own ban the box ordinances, many of which go beyond what state-level laws require.

  • Other laws: Expungement laws, bans on certain background checks, and other background check laws also vary by state.


Check out the list of states to learn all about the criminal history background check options in each state. 

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