Background Checks
Manage your employment screening program easily and more efficiently with GoodHire’s award-winning advanced platform.
Access our full library of content to learn about hiring trends, screening compliance, and how GoodHire works.

State LawsCalifornia

California Background Checks

A guide to California background checks

Many employers conduct background screenings to confirm a candidate’s qualifications and experience, verify professional licenses, search criminal and driving records, and more. To ensure your background checks are in compliance with all relevant laws, here’s what employers should know before performing a background check in California.

Pre-employment background checks can help California employers make well-informed hiring decisions by providing important information about a candidate’s work experience, education, criminal history, and more. Because employment background checks in California are strictly regulated, it’s essential that employers’ background screening processes remain compliant with applicable federal, state, and local laws. This guide to California state background checks covers the various kinds of background checks California employers commonly use; what types of information background checks can report; and applicable laws to be aware of when performing a pre-employment background check in California. 

Get A California Background Check Today

Get Started
GoodHire's background check platform makes it easy to order reports and review results.

What Is A California Background Check?

A California background check searches public records (such as court records or motor vehicle records) and private sources (such as employer or school records) for relevant information about a job candidate. Employers may conduct a wide range of California background checks depending on federal, local, and California law, as well as the organization’s industry and the role a candidate is seeking. 

Some of the most common types of employment background checks in California include criminal background checks, civil court checks, employment and education verification, drug screening tests, and driving records checks. 

What Does A Background Check Show In California?

An employee background check in California can return a variety of results, including criminal records, employment history, driving records, and more. The results depend on the type of screening performed and the scope of the search (such as whether you’re searching court records only in California or in multiple states). The results returned by performing a background check yourself may be more limited than those you get from working with a consumer reporting agency (CRA).

Exactly what does a background check show in California? Here are some common results employers may see from a California state background check: 

  • Criminal history checks in California may show misdemeanor and felony convictions, pending criminal cases, active warrants, and infractions. It may also show whether the candidate is a registered sex offender and any history of incarceration as an adult. 
  • Employment verification may show dates of past employment and job titles. 
  • Education verification confirms dates of attendance at educational institutions, degrees earned, and graduation dates.
  • Driving record checks search the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ motor vehicle records (MVRs) to show the candidate’s driver’s license class and status, driving-related convictions such as DUIs, accident reports; and moving violations, suspensions, or restrictions.
  • Employment credit checks can show a candidate’s credit and payment history, bankruptcies, and accounts in collections. In California, credit reports can only be used to make employment decisions for certain types of jobs, including managerial roles, law enforcement, and positions providing access to $10,000 or more during the workday., .
  • Civil court checks can search federal, upper, and lower civil court records for civil disputes and bankruptcy filings. These screenings are most often used for management roles or positions that involve finances. 
  • Drug screening can determine whether a candidate has used certain prescription or illicit drugs. In California, employers can perform drug testing on job candidates only after the candidate has received an offer of employment that is conditional on passing the test. Both medicinal and recreational marijuana use are legal in California. 
  • Healthcare sanctions checks search national databases to show penalties, suspensions, or disciplinary actions taken against a healthcare professional.

California background check laws regulate the use of criminal history, credit reports, drug testing, and salary history in employment-related decisions. There are also several local laws that may be stricter than California state laws. (See “California Employment Background Check Laws,” below, for details.) 

Can information on a background check disqualify candidates from employment?

Certain results of an employment background check in California may disqualify candidates from being hired. Whether a specific result causes an employer to deny employment also depends on the organization’s background check policy, the responsibilities of the role, and industry regulations. 

Common reasons an employer may choose to deny employment include:

  • A criminal background check in California that returns a criminal record, such as felony or misdemeanor convictions, could disqualify a candidate, depending on industry regulations, the job requirements, and the nature of the offense. However, employers must be careful to follow federal, California, and local laws regarding how the results of a criminal history check in California are evaluated for employment purposes. 
  • A California Department of Motor Vehicles driving record indicating a history of moving violations, negligent driving, or driving under the influence may disqualify a candidate from jobs involving driving. 
  • An education verification check that finds the candidate claimed to have attended a school they never went to or having a degree or credential they did not obtain.
  • An employment verification check that reveals a candidate falsified work experience about past employers, job titles, or responsibilities.
  • A positive drug test may disqualify a candidate, depending on the drug type, local laws, the employer’s industry, and the job requirements. Since recreational and medical marijuana use are both legal in California, the presence of marijuana may not disqualify a candidate for a clerical job, but it might for a job driving a delivery truck or caring for children. 

How To Get A Background Check In California

To get a California background check, employers can choose to search public records themselves or use a CRA to handle the screening process. Employers may be able to do a background check in California online, but using government databases, completing forms and mailing in requests for public records, reviewing court records, and contacting former employers can be a laborious process. Working with a qualified background check provider is generally more efficient than a DIY approach. 

Using a CRA, like GoodHire, to perform background checks can streamline your background screening process and HR workflows, helping you hire faster. GoodHire has access to multiple databases allowing us to quickly search public records and complete screenings, such as criminal records checks and National Sex Offender Registry checks, in as little as one day while our platform has workflows to support compliance of California’s ever-evolving laws. 

How Long Does A Background Check Take In California?

How long a background check takes in California can range from a few minutes to a week or longer, though most background screenings can be completed within a few days. The type of background check, the information requested, the source of that information, and whether you search for records yourself or use a qualified CRA can affect how long a background check takes in California. 

The following average time frames for various types of background checks can serve as a guideline. 

Type of screeningAverage time to complete
Criminal background check1-3 days
Driving records checks>1 hour to 1-3 days
Employment or education verification2-7 days
Drug testing3-10 days
International background check1 week 

To speed turnaround times, many employers choose to work with a background check provider, like GoodHire. GoodHire’s platform reduces manual processes while providing visibility into the progress of your reports, including estimated completion time and automatic notifications when results are returned.

How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go In California?

How far back a pre-employment background check in California can go depends on the type of background check being conducted and whether you are working with a CRA or performing screenings on your own. 

There are also several statewide laws that may impact the lookback period of a California background check. For example, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agency Act (ICRAA) prohibits CRAs from reporting non-conviction records (including non-pending arrests, indictments, and misdemeanor charges) or convictions that are more than seven years old. The Uniform Controlled Substances Act prohibits CRAs from reporting misdemeanor marijuana convictions older than two years. In addition, felony convictions after January 1, 2005, for some offenses may automatically be expunged if the individual meets certain conditions and has not been convicted of another felony in the past four years. A criminal record check in California will not reveal such convictions. 

Employees that partner with a CRA, like GoodHire, are required to comply with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Under this act, reporting on non-conviction information is limited to a seven-year lookback period. This includes most credit report information, civil judgements, and tax liens. Bankruptcies are excluded and may be reported for up to 10 years while criminal convictions may be reported indefinitely. Note, however, that California state law will impact how far back the employment background checks go and what can be reported. 

If an employer conducts searches themselves or if a candidate’s expected salary is $75,000 or higher, FCRA limitation may not apply.

How Much Does A Background Check Cost In California?

The cost of an employee background check in California depends on the type of search and whether the employer or a CRA conducts the background screening. Employers who perform their own employee background checks will need to pay for each record, which can quickly add up. For example, sensitive positions, such as childcare, healthcare or financial jobs, may require Live Scan fingerprint checks, which can cost $42 or more per candidate. Courthouses may also charge fees for accessing public records, and you may need to search criminal records of multiple courts in jurisdictions where a candidate has lived. 

In addition to fees for searching public records, doing your own background checks also costs your HR team time. Hours spent making phone calls, following up, filling out forms, and visiting courthouses can reduce the amount of time spent on more strategic work. Partnering with a qualified CRA, like GoodHire, can make background screenings more affordable and efficient with comprehensive background check packages starting at $29.99. 

Get A California Background Check Today

Get Started
GoodHire's background check platform makes it easy to order reports and review results.

California Employment Background Check Laws

The following California background check laws apply statewide. 

Investigative Consumer Reporting Agency Act (ICRAA)

The ICRAA parallels the federal FCRA but adds certain requirements, such as limiting employers to seven-year background checks in California. Under the ICRAA, CRAs may not generally provide background reports that include convictions older than seven years; charges or arrests that did not lead to convictions; or any sealed, dismissed, or expunged convictions. Reports may include pending criminal cases. These restrictions generally apply regardless of the expected salary for the position.  

Ban-the-box laws in California

Fair Chance Act (FCA) 

California’s ban-the-box law prohibits public sector employers in California from inquiring into a candidate’s criminal history until the candidate is deemed qualified to meet the minimum requirements of the position. California employers with at least five employees, regardless of those employees’ work location, cannot use criminal history in employment decisions if doing so would adversely affect candidates, and

  • the employer cannot prove such use is job-related and consistent with business necessity; or
  • the screening and hiring policy must be the absolute least discriminatory method for achieving the business need

Employers are specifically prohibited from considering the following criminal records:

  1. An arrest or detention that did not result in conviction
  2. Referral to or participation in a pretrial or post-trial diversion program
  3. A conviction that has been judicially dismissed or ordered sealed, expunged, or statutorily eradicated pursuant to California law

If considering denying employment based on criminal background, employers must also conduct an individualized assessment following EEOC guidance, considering the nature and seriousness of the criminal offense, time passed since the offense and completion of the sentence, and the nature of the position. This individualized assessment must go into more detail than the federal FCRA requires. Employers must consider the specific conduct of the candidate that led to a conviction; whether harm was done to people or property; the degree and permanence of the harm, the context of the offense, and whether a disability, including prior drug use or mental illness, was a factor in the conduct.

Employers must send a pre-adverse action notice to inform candidates of specific offenses that could lead to an adverse hiring decision. The pre-adverse action notice must:

  • Include a copy of any conviction report the employer obtained
  • Give the candidate at least five business days to respond to the notice before the employer’s decision is final
  • State the deadline for that response
  • Tell the candidate that the response can include evidence challenging the accuracy of the conviction history, mitigating circumstances, and/or evidence of rehabilitation 

Employers must hold the job open for five business days to give the candidate time to respond to the pre-adverse action notice. If a candidate disputes the accuracy of information during the waiting period, the employer must wait an additional five business days from the date of dispute before sending a final adverse action notice. 

The final adverse action notice must inform the candidate of:

  • Any existing procedure the candidate can use to challenge the decision or request reconsideration

The right to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

CA Assembly Bill 506

Administrators, employees, or regular volunteers with youth service organizations must go through a background check to find and exclude any who have a history of child abuse. (Regular volunteers are those 18 and older who have direct contact with children for over 16 hours per month or 32 hours annually.) 

Clean Slate Law

CA Senate Bill 731

SB 731 expands automatic record relief to seal the criminal records of people convicted of certain felonies on or after January 1, 2005. Individuals must have carried out their sentence, probation, parole, or other terms of the conviction, and have gone four years without being convicted of another felony. 

Criminal Records

CA Civil Code 1786.18 (a) (7)

CRAs cannot report the following:

  • Arrests, indictments, misdemeanor complaints, and convictions of crimes older than seven years 
  • Any full pardon that has been granted 
  • Any arrest that did not lead to a conviction 

Pending criminal charges, however, can be reported.

CA Labor Code 432.7

Employers cannot ask a job candidate about, or make employment decisions about an candidate, based on: 

  • Criminal charges that did not result in a conviction
  • Pretrial or post-trial diversion programs
  • Dismissed or sealed convictions

Employers are permitted to ask about pending criminal charges.

Credit Reports

CA Labor Code 1024.5, Part 2, Division 2

California employers can use consumer credit reports to make employment decisions only if the position in question is: 

  • A managerial position
  • A position in the State Department of Justice
  • A law enforcement position
  • Required by law to include a credit report
  • One which involves working regularly with individuals’ sensitive personal information
  • One in which the candidate will have fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of the employer
  • One in which the candidate will have access to trade secrets and other valuable business information
  • One in which the candidate will have access to $10,000 or more in cash

CA Civil Code 1785.20.5

Before obtaining a credit report on a candidate, employers must: Inform the candidate that a credit report is being reviewed and could affect the hiring decision

  • Reveal the CRA providing the credit report
  • Allow the candidate to request a free copy of the report. If the candidate wants a copy, the report must be sent to the candidate and the employer at the same time.

Drug Screening

CA Labor Code 222.5

Employers cannot require job candidates to pay for an employment drug screening or deduct any costs of the drug screening from their compensation. 

CA Health and Safety Code 11361.5

CRAs cannot report misdemeanor marijuana convictions more than two years old. 

CA Assembly Bill 1288

Effective January 1, 2024, AB 1288 bans employers with five or more employees from discriminating against candidates or employees for using marijuana during non-working hours when away from the workplace. It also forbids relying on the results of drug testing that reveals non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites, which remain in the body long after the psychoactive effects of cannabis have passed. 

Salary History & Transparency

CA Labor Code § 432.3

Employers cannot not use a candidate’s salary history when making hiring decisions or setting salaries for a position. Employers must provide a pay scale for the position. 

CA Assembly Bill 1676

Employers cannot request salary history from a candidate or use a candidate’s salary history as a factor in determining a) whether to offer employment or b) what salary to offer. Employers must also give the candidate a “pay scale” for the position to which they are applying.

CA Senate Bill 1162

Employers with 15 or more employees must include salary ranges and pay scales for both internal and external job postings. 

Date of Birth Redaction

CA Rules of Court, Rule 2.507 allows for the removal of dates of birth and/or driver’s license numbers from being used to identify individuals when conducting electronic searches of court records. The California Court of Appeals upheld the rule in All of Us or None of Us v. Hamrick. In instances where data cannot be retrieved electronically, verifications of DOB or driver’s license numbers require visiting a courthouse in person. 

Local California Employment Laws

San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance

This law, which applies to all city businesses with five or more employees, prohibits employers from asking about criminal records until after making a conditional offer of employment. Employers are also forbidden from considering:

  • An arrest not leading to a conviction, except for unresolved arrests
  • Participation in a diversion or deferral of judgment program
  • A conviction that has been dismissed, expunged, otherwise invalidated, or inoperative
  • A conviction in the juvenile justice system
  • An offense other than a felony or misdemeanor, such as an infraction
  • A conviction more than seven years old (unless the position being considered supervises minors or dependent adults)

Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance (FCIHO)

This law goes applies to private employers and city contractors in the City of Los Angeles who have 10 or more employees. Under FCIHO, employers:

  • Cannot include any inquiries into a candidate’s criminal history in job applications or postings
  • Cannot inquire about a candidate’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment is made
  • Conduct a written assessment linking specific aspects of the candidate’s criminal history with risks specific to the job being sought. 
  • Give a candidate an opportunity for the Fair Chance Process if an offer of employment is withdrawn due to criminal history 
  • Wait at least five business days before taking adverse action or filling the job. 

Federal Background Check Law

Employers in California must also comply with the federal CRA. This federal law sets standards for when background checks can be used, how to disclose and obtain consent for a background check, how to share results with the job candidate, and what to do if you decide not to hire someone due to findings from a background check. 

County Resources

The following resources can help you learn more about a specific California county or city’s background check laws. 

Alameda County

Bordered by the San Francisco Bay on the west, Alameda County is 821 square miles in size and is home to many tech workers, as well as the prestigious University of California, Berkeley. The county’s population is over 1.68 million; its largest cities are Oakland, Fremont, Hayward, and Berkeley.

Public Information & Records: 

Local ban-the-box laws apply to positions within the county government of Alameda and the city governments in Berkeley and Oakland.

Get A California Background Check Today

Get Started
GoodHire's background check platform makes it easy to order reports and review results.

Contra Costa County

Part of the San Francisco Bay area, Contra Costa County’s 804 square miles border the San Francisco Bay on the west. Concord, Antioch, Richmond, and San Ramon are the largest cities in this county, many of whose over 1.16 million residents work in the tech industry.  

Public Information & Records: 

A local ban-the-box law applies to positions within the city government in Richmond.

Los Angeles County

The 4,083 square miles of Los Angeles County are home to mountains, beaches, Hollywood, and a diverse population. With more than 10 million residents, it’s the most populous county in the US and the third largest metropolitan-area economy in the world. Its biggest city, Los Angeles, has a population of nearly 4 million; Long Beach is the second biggest city. 

Public Information & Records: 

Local ban-the-box laws apply to positions within the city government in Carson, Compton, Pasadena, and Los Angeles.

Sacramento County

Home to the state capital, Sacramento County covers 984 square miles in the middle of California’s Central Valley, which is the state’s prime agricultural region. Its biggest cities are Sacramento, Elk Grove, Arden-Arcade, and Citrus Heights; its total population is over 1.58 million. 

Public Information & Records: 

A local ban-the-box law applies to positions within the city government in Sacramento.

San Francisco County

San Francisco County has only one city: San Francisco. A tourist destination known for cable cars, fog, liberal politics, and the technology industry, it is the fourth most populous county in California. With 873,965 residents packed into 46.9 square miles, it’s also the second most densely populated large US city. 

Public Information & Records: 

A local ban-the-box law applies to positions within the city government in San Francisco.

San Mateo County

This coastal county situated directly south of San Francisco covers most of the San Francisco Peninsula. A largely suburban county, it’s home to many tech workers and is a relatively high-income area with a population of 764,442 people in 455 square miles. San Mateo, Redwood City, and South San Francisco are its major cities.

Public Information & Records: 

A local ban-the-box law applies to positions within the city government in East Palo Alto.

Santa Clara County

Located on the southern coast of San Francisco Bay, Santa Clara County has the third highest GDP per capita in the world, thanks to the booming tech industry. Measuring 1,304 square miles with a population of over 1.93 million, its primary cities are San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara.

Public Information & Records: 

A local ban-the-box law applies to positions within the county government.

Get A California Background Check Today

Conducting an employment background check is often an important step in the hiring process. But with so many laws regulating background checks in California, a DIY approach could lead to missteps that could put your company at risk of legal liability. Using a qualified background check provider, like GoodHire, can help streamline the California background check process while helping support compliance to give you peace of mind. 

GoodHire delivers fast, accurate, FCRA-compliant background checks to help you make fair, informed hiring decisions. We offer multiple background screening options, while our compliance workflows help support key steps such as initiating adverse action and gathering information for individualized assessments required by California laws. An easy-to-use platform and mobile-friendly candidate portal make ordering California state background checks easier. Get started.

Get A California Background Check Today

Get Started
GoodHire's background check platform makes it easy to order reports and review results.

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.