Whether you are hiring a new employee to extend your team or want to know more about the person who just moved in next door, you may want to know how to do background checks.
In professional and personal contexts, looking into criminal history, past employment, and other elements of a person’s past can offer peace of mind and deeper understanding. However, if you plan to conduct a background screening on someone, it’s important to know the legal implications of that decision, among other potential complicating factors. This post will explore how to conduct background checks smartly and legally compliant.
The first question is the most obvious one: Can you go searching into someone else’s past?
In the simplest terms, the answer is yes: You can usually run a background check on anyone. If you have a person’s name, it is possible to investigate their history, check their criminal record, find details about their driving record, and more. However, an important caveat here is that there could be legal implications to running a background check on someone without their consent.
The most important question to ask yourself before running a background check concerns the purpose behind the check. Are you conducting a background check in a professional setting? Perhaps you‘re screening a job candidate you want to hire for your business. Alternatively, you’re a landlord who wants to vet potential tenants before you approve or deny their leasing applications.
In either of these situations, you are planning to use a person’s background check information to make important decisions about them and their future. Numerous laws dictate what you can and can’t do in this setting. Crucially, you must obtain the consent of the person you vet before proceeding with the background check. Otherwise, you are failing to comply with the law. You are also disrespecting the legally-protected rights of a prospective employee or tenant.
Breaches of compliance on this level can lead to legal action. For instance, employers must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when conducting background checks for employment purposes. The FCRA has several detailed steps and policies that employers must follow. These requirements concern everything from the consent form to the process an employer should use to notify a candidate about an adverse hiring decision.
Ultimately, you can run a background check on anyone in a professional setting. Employers, landlords, and other decision-makers must screen candidates to protect themselves legally. If an employer hires a candidate with a violent history and that person hurts a coworker or customer, the employer can be held liable and sued for negligent hiring. Not running a background check usually poses a more significant legal risk for an employer than running one.
However, employers can also face legal blowback if they don’t follow proper protocol to ensure FCRA compliant process. Said another way, you can only run background checks in a professional setting if you have gone through the proper channels to disclose your intentions and obtain authorization.
The FCRA and other background check-related legislation can be complex and difficult to understand at first. The good news is that learning the ropes is possible, especially with the guidance of a legal professional. Most employers use background checks to screen all new hires, and the majority never run into any legal issues related to their checks. That’s because these employers are exceedingly careful about following the FCRA to the letter, as failing to do so can be an extremely costly mistake. Your business can also learn the rules and guidelines and establish smart policies that protect you from negligence without risking lapses in compliance.
Vetting prospective employees has become one of the most popular applications for background checks. Not all background checks occur in employment or a professional setting. If you wish to run a background check on someone for personal reasons, it’s entirely different from screening a potential tenant or job applicant.
Essentially, the idea here is that a person has the right to learn more about an acquaintance they know personally. Sometimes, you may want to know more about a person out of curiosity. Other times, your intentions may be more about safety. Either way, when it comes to personal relationships, you are within your rights to use background checks to find out information about people in your life.
Here are a few potential background check scenarios that fall on the personal side of the spectrum:
Perhaps you met someone online or via a dating app. Now, you naturally want to know more about them. You are considering starting a personal relationship with this person, but want to know you can trust them first. In this scenario, you might run a background check on your would-be significant other to make sure they are whom they say they are. While most dating apps will conduct some form of background check on their users, many app users will conduct their own background checks as a means of keeping themselves safe.
You’re looking for a babysitter to care for your children after school or in the evenings. No one you know personally can take on the responsibility, which means you need to hire someone you don’t know. You might run a background check in this situation to look for potential red flags. You want peace of mind that your children are in good hands, and a background check can provide that.
You recently moved into a new neighborhood and noticed suspicious people hanging around the neighbor’s house. You think the neighbor might be involved in a criminal operation, but you aren’t sure how to confirm it. In this situation, running a background check on your neighbor to see what you can learn about them and their history could be advisable. Alternatively, a new person has moved in next door, and you get a bad vibe from them. Again, you may use background checks to learn more about that person and determine whether your concerns are unfounded.
You’re preparing for a job interview and want to know precisely what an employer will see when they run a criminal search on you. As a precaution, you run a background check on yourself to ensure your record looks the way it should. Increasingly, job seekers are using self-background checks to ensure they don’t encounter anything unexpected during the pre-employment screening. These self-checks fall into the “personal background check” category.
The rules around all background checks are less understood and typically less enforced than those for professional background checks. When an employer runs a background check on you, they know they need to obtain your consent to avoid compliance problems. If you asked the average person whether applicant consent was necessary for an employment screening, they would say yes. Answers would probably vary more if you asked someone about background checks for babysitters or significant others. Do you need consent if you want to run one of these checks?
The answer is complicated. Criminal history information (and most other types of information that background checks can find) is on public record. You can sometimes find this information just by doing a Google search of a person’s name. If you don’t need a person’s consent to Google them or look them up on social media, do you need consent to order a more formal check through a background check service?
If you want to run a name-based background check on a significant other, a neighbor, or someone else for purposes relevant exclusively to a personal relationship, you can do so without consent. For instance, if you’ve been matched with someone via a dating app, you do not need to notify that person or get their permission before you look into their criminal history record. That relationship is strictly personal, meaning compliance with the FCRA or other background check laws is irrelevant.
However, do note that if there is any element of an employer-employee relationship at play, you need written permission from the person you’re vetting. This point raises a common question: Is a babysitter a “personal” acquaintance (and therefore, someone you can vet on your own terms without formal consent), or are they a “professional” acquaintance (and thus, someone whose background check needs to be compliant with the FCRA)?
Indeed, hiring a babysitter to watch your kids might be a less formal than hiring someone for a full-time job at your business. However, you are still technically the “employer” of the person you choose to hire for this role. As such, it’s always wisest to get consent before conducting any background check. The same rule applies to anyone you hire to provide a service for you and your family — from housekeepers to investment brokers to realtors. While these relationships may blur the boundaries between personal and professional, they lean professional in the eyes of the law. As such, it is always better to be safe than sorry for FCRA compliance.
Most of the checks we offer at backgroundchecks.com are geared toward employers or other entities operating in professional capacities. However, we also provide a background check service through a partnership with BeenVerified that private citizens can use to gather information about neighbors, significant others, friends, or other personal acquaintances.
Many criminal records checks involve going directly to a law enforcement source—a county court or a state police repository. These searches typically take several days, though the wait time can vary depending on the law enforcement agency or jurisdiction.
A personal background check, such as the BeenVerified one described above, can be done “anonymously” because the subject of the background check won’t be notified. If you vet someone in a professional capacity, it’s illegal to do so without informing the person about the background check.
At backgroundchecks.com, we offer a dedicated service to help customers run criminal history searches on themselves. Run a personal check on yourself now!
Employment background checks require compliance with a variety of laws. In addition to the FCRA and guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers must be aware of any local or state laws that may apply. For instance, many jurisdictions now have “ban the box” laws, which prohibit questions about criminal history on the job application and often delay the background check until later in the hiring process. Ensure you know the relevant laws and ordinances before conducting an employment background check.
Employers use various background checks to vet candidates, including criminal history searches, past employment and education verifications, reference checks, and more. Credit checks, in addition to bankruptcy background checks, constitute a small section of the pre-employment vetting process – that of financial background checks. Typically, employers only utilize these checks for positions where the job responsibilities are expressly related to financial matters. If you’re seeking a job in that category, you may wish to look into your own financial history to get a sense of what hiring managers will see.
Most states have laws limiting the criminal background check lookback period to the past seven years.
Some employers will utilize driving history checks as part of their pre-employment screening process. What shows on a driving history check, you may ask? Essentially, this type of background check is a peek at a person’s motor vehicle record, including tickets and traffic violations, driver’s license points, license restrictions (including suspensions and revocations), and more. Driving record checks are not a standard part of most background checks in the employment world simply because many jobs don’t involve driving. A hiring manager trying to fill an office manager role who will likely never operate a vehicle for that job has no reason to investigate that person’s driving history.
Similarly, most people running background checks for personal reasons won’t have much cause to run driving history checks, though that’s not to say this type of check would never be relevant. For instance, when hiring a babysitter whom you expect will be chauffeuring your child to and from school, sports practices, or other obligations, you may (rightfully) be interested in learning about that person’s driving record.
If you’re curious about your own motor vehicle record, read our blog posts “How Do I Get a Copy of My Driver Record?” and “How to Get a Copy of Your Driving Record (and Why You Should).”
Can you run a background check on a neighbor or romantic prospect without them knowing about it? In informal personal situations like these, it is possible and legal to do a background search without informing that person first. This check could be as simple as a Google search or as in-depth as a search through our BeenVerified feature. Do note, though, that if you are background checking a person for a more formal purpose – such as for a job – you are legally required to disclose the background check to that person and get their consent to proceed. Formal checks cannot be done anonymously.
No. A person’s internet browsing history is their private information and would never be included in any legal or ethical background check.
What a background check can show will depend on the type of check in question. In employment situations, hiring managers will use background checks to learn about a person’s criminal history, past employment, education, civil court records, driving history, credit history, and more. In less formal situations like those discussed on this page, searchers are often more focused on one or two specific categories – such as criminal history or sex offender status.
While social media background checks in an employment context are quite controversial, that same controversy doesn’t extend to more personal matters. When it comes to learning about a new neighbor, a romantic connection, or a potential roommate, for instance, the first place most people start is on social media. These days, most people have one or more online profiles, whether on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or other social media networks. Learning about a person via these channels can be a hit-or-miss endeavor, given that some people make their profiles private or unsearchable – and that, even if you find a person’s profile, they may not be active online. However, there is a reason that social media is a popular mechanism for gleaning information about a new acquaintance: It is a free, easy, and accessible means of running a preliminary background check on a person.
As for more formal background checks, like the services offered at backgroundchecks.com, none of our products incorporate social media searches.
The personal background check service at backgroundchecks.com is a quick, sophisticated, affordable way of checking your own background or doing a quick search for a new neighbor or boyfriend. Try our personal searches today!