Can Employers Run a Background Check on Anyone?

Employers attempting to dig into a current or prospective employee’s records are restricted by certain guidelines and legal stipulations established as a matter basic civil rights. Any company hoping to screen job applicants or current employees must first provide, in writing, information to the subject of screening that they need permission to run a background check. Furthermore, companies who have denied a position to an applicant or a promotion to an existing employee on the grounds of something uncovered in a background check must provide all information related to the discovery to the individual and offer a chance to challenge the detrimental discovery. Background checks cannot be performed without prior consent in any situation, though they can be set forth as necessary for landing a position if the company handles all such checks within their walls.

Even when mandating a background check for the purposes of employment or promotion, companies cannot always use the information they find against the job applicant. Laws in many states, for example, forbid companies from using certain information relative to an applicant’s credit as a deciding factor. Bankruptcy, for example, cannot be used as a reason to hire fire or deny promotion to any individual. Financial dealings are generally ignored, however, unless the applicant will be in a position where their fiscal responsibility directly affects the company’s security or profitability.

Another item of note that can only be used in limited capacity is a candidate’s employment history. Previous employers of a job candidate are often hesitant to willingly provide information for fear they will become the subject of a lawsuit. As a rule, most employers will comment only on a previous employee’s start and stop dates, without providing details about why the relationship ended. For this reason, applicants for a job should not fabricate their previous places of employment but should not be fearful they will be subjected to the ill will of a former coworker or boss.

For professions where the worker will be privy to sensitive medical information, weapons, chemicals or a special population, background checks will be required by state or federal law. Instances where state and federal laws were established for the protection of employers and materials within a facility cannot be circumvented as a matter of civil rights. Applicants who do not agree to background check under these circumstances can be denied employment with no further actionable argument or appeal.