Understanding the Importance of Criminal History Background Checks

Taking the time to conduct criminal background checks as part of your hiring process helps you reduce the chances of bringing in someone who could cause problems for customers and employees. These checks can also help you avoid negligent hiring claims.

criminal history background check may search national, state, and county records for convictions and pending cases. Pending cases are usually not weighted as heavily as convictions, though.

What is A Criminal Background Check?

A criminal background check searches national, state, and county court records for information about a job candidate’s past misdemeanor and felony convictions. These checks may also include information regarding pending cases (arrests, detention without charges, and incarcerations) based on state rules, availability of data repositories, and client customizations, which are permitted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and any applicable law.

While a background check can be used to assess any risk, the primary concern for employers is employee safety and reducing security risks in the workplace. By conditioning employment offers on criminal background check results, employers can help keep their workplace safe and avoid costly lawsuits and damages related to theft and embezzlement.

Criminal background checks typically include a national database search covering all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They also can include a state-based search that focuses on counties where an applicant has lived in addition to the county where they currently reside. These searches can be complemented by additional searches that target federal databases, offender registries, watch lists, and local courts and police departments for specific crimes (i.e., drug offenses). These searches can be conducted based on an individual’s name or an alias.

What is the Purpose of A Criminal Background Check?

Criminal background checks are essential for employers to reduce workplace risks and keep their businesses safe. Criminal background checks can uncover various crimes, including felony and misdemeanor convictions and arrest records. In addition, pending criminal cases can also appear on a background check report; however, employers are generally advised to only consider these findings in light of the context and responsibilities of the job at hand and to avoid making blanket disqualification decisions based on a candidate’s record.

A state RAP sheet, sometimes called a police certificate or police report, is a public record. It reports all contacts with a state’s criminal justice system. However, these records are not as comprehensive as an FBI RAP sheet.

Some states limit the number of years that an employer can look at an applicant’s criminal history, while others require a fingerprint-based search to access records. Regardless of the scope of a background check, turnaround times vary based on the source and fulfillment method. For instance, nationwide searches can help speed up results by simultaneously searching multiple states and counties.

What is the Information That Can be Gleaned From A Criminal Background Check?

A criminal background check can uncover a variety of information. It can provide felony and misdemeanor conviction records and pending charges. Convictions are particularly interesting to employers, as they offer proof of guilt that a candidate committed a crime. A search can also reveal legal infractions, such as traffic violations or citations.

Additionally, a check can show arrest records, even those that did not result in convictions. In addition, the new FBI Next Generation Identification System (NGI) is working to close arrest booking records with the outcome of the charges. In contrast, the old Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) did not always match up records. Moreover, if an individual successfully petitioned the court to have their record sealed or expunged, it should not appear on a background check report.

Many courts still use manual systems, which means a human runner or clerk must physically visit the courthouse to request records. Depending on how backlogged the court is, a search could take days or more. In addition, the method of storing records and laws governing their usage varies by state and jurisdiction. 

What is the Best Way to Conduct a Criminal Background Check?

Most employers use criminal background checks as a part of their candidate vetting process. This helps them make a more informed hiring decision, mitigate risk in their workplace, and verify candidates’ claims. Often, the results of a criminal background check can prevent a bad hire that can cost a company time, money, and reputation.

A good criminal background check includes a multi-jurisdictional national criminal database search, county records searches (where applicable), state repositories, and more. It also should include a social security number search that reveals aliases, dates of birth, and addresses used throughout a person’s life. This can uncover records that wouldn’t be found using a name-based search.

The results of a background check should include convictions and pending charges or arrests. However, employers are advised not to weigh pending charges or arrests as heavily as convictions.

A criminal background check should be tailored for each job. For example, a financial services company would want to ensure that the background check includes all federal crimes involving mail fraud, wire fraud, federal tax evasion, and embezzlement. Other positions might require a search that includes more specific violations like weapons possession, drug abuse, or sexual offenses. As a result, an individualized approach to screening is critical to reducing costs, maintaining compliance, and providing safe work environments.

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