What Does It Mean if Your Criminal Background Check is Pending?

A quick background check process can empower companies to staff up quickly and respond to demand. Still, delays can happen. Find out why employment screening services might say your background check order is still "pending."

Running a criminal background check during hiring is a standard procedure in virtually every industry. While some jobs don’t require a background check, applicants are more likely to encounter them than not—and for good reason. For your business, background checks are about more than ensuring you have a deeper understanding of a job applicant. They are also critical for protecting your assets, other staff, and the business itself. Without taking the appropriate steps, you could face the threat of a negligent hiring lawsuit in the future.

Naturally, that makes a thorough background check procedure very important. From looking into criminal history to checking references and following up with past employers, there are many elements to due diligence. Chasing down all these leads can be a very time-consuming task. When you need to add additional staff with as few delays as possible, it makes sense to work with a third party to acquire all the information you need to make an informed decision.

A process that takes too long is not only detrimental to your business, but it can scare away job applicants, too. Someone who needs to start earning a paycheck quickly to afford rent likely won't have the time or patience for a hiring process that takes weeks. Knowing that, it can be a big source of stress if the background check you ordered still says "pending." 

What does a pending background check mean, and is there anything you can do? What if a background check indicates potential new charges associated with your candidate? Understanding the answers to these questions will illuminate an important element of the vetting process: time management. Let's look at what you need to know.

Do Instant Background Checks Exist?

Yes, it is possible to order a background check that can provide you with nearly instant results on your candidate. For example, our US OneSEARCH product uses a proprietary database of professionally-compiled records from county and state systems found across the nation. Because we update these records as frequently as possible and maintain our own access, we can quickly generate reports. 

US OneSEARCH users enjoy detailed background reports generated minutes after you submit your official request. However, there will be times when you wish to drill down to a more local level to look at specific records. A deeper dive—and many other circumstances—might leave you staring at a background check that says "pending." When this happens, you're stuck waiting. So why does it happen?

What Could Cause a Delay in a Background Check?

There are several reasons that a delay can occur in a background check. As frustrating as it may be, some of these delays are out of your hands. In some limited cases, you can expedite the process yourself. Knowing what you might face can help you structure enough time into your workflow. Some of the most common causes of background check delays include the following:

  • Incomplete information. We may need additional information about your job applicant before we can finalize processing your report.
  • High volume. Some forms of background checks, such as those that require going through state police or another agency, can suffer from backlogs due to the large number of requests.
  • Court delays. When you need to look at someone's county court records, we may not always have access to digital information. This lack of access can drive delays because of the need to locate and examine relevant documentation manually. Courts can also suffer from cascading delays due to volume.
  • Verification. Matching records to ensure they correspond to the correct individual can take time, especially in states such as California, where common matching methods such as date of birth are illegal.
  • Delays caused by ongoing trial activity. The most up-to-date information may not be immediately available if an applicant has an active court case, as it takes time to produce and file the relevant documentation.

Will a Pending Charge Appear on a Background Check?

Let's focus on pending charges. While arrest records typically aren't included in background checks, pending charges and active criminal trials may appear. This is not true for every state, but in many jurisdictions, records related to active charges and ongoing activity are fair game. Because the applicant has often not yet been convicted or acquitted, assessing pending charges can be tricky. Avoiding discrimination is essential, and you must be careful about assumptions of guilt simply because the applicant is in court.

Even so, an active case is a red flag that requires investigation. Using a county background check to access these local records can help you evaluate whether the event should be a disqualifying factor. Remember, if you intend to act against an applicant because of information you discovered in a background check, you must issue them with a pre-adverse action notice. Even when you base your decision on a pending charge, you must still follow the rules of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

How Can I Make My Background Check Process Faster?

Building a workflow that gives you all the information you need is critical—but you must also factor in the possibility of delays. Reducing the time it takes to hire new individuals safely and effectively yields many benefits for the business and its newly-arrived employees. At the same time, you should never cut corners here, even when time is of the essence—the risk of potential negligence is too high. So, is there anything you can do to speed up the process?

Yes and no. You can take many steps to ensure your process runs as smoothly as possible and repeatably. However, there will always be occasions when forces beyond your control introduce delays in the process. Clear communication with your applicant during this process can help manage stress and avoid lost opportunities. With the potential for local regulations or outmoded technology to impact the time it takes to process your request, build extra time into your plans.

As for methods you can use to speed up the process, try these quick tips:

  • Have a written, well-defined process you can follow step-by-step. Always know your next action.
  • Partner with a proven consumer reporting agency. With the comprehensive services we offer and our in-depth understanding of the nuances of the vetting process, we can be a trusted partner for your company.
  • Know the employment screening services you will need to use on any given applicant.
  • Be ready to move on to the next steps as soon as you reach a final decision based on an applicant's results.

While you cannot control what happens in small county courts or as a result of new regulations, you can build a process capable of consistently producing swift results. When delays do occur, understanding what's going on can make it easier to encourage patience from eager job applicants. Start learning more about the intricate details of background checks and the best practices for using them today. Visit our knowledge center for more information.

Be sure. Be confident. Be fast, efficient, and consistent.

Avoid errors and omissions with backgroundchecks.com

More than 17,000 small and mid-sized businesses screen job candidates through backgroundchecks.com