Background Checks
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Washington Background Checks

A guide to Washington background checks

Employers may use a Washington background check as part of their hiring process to gain insight beyond a candidate’s application or resume. There are a wide range of background screenings available, including criminal history, employment and education verification, and driving records. No matter the type of pre-employment search, it’s important for employers to comply with federal, state, and local laws. 

Using a Washington background check can help employers determine a candidate’s qualifications during the hiring process. Employers can opt to screen candidates themselves or use a qualified consumer reporting agency (CRA). This guide to a Washington state background check for employment covers the details of what they may include, how they are conducted, and which federal, state, and local laws may apply. 

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What Is A Washington Background Check? 

A Washington state background check may be used by employers as a screening tool for informed hiring decisions prior to onboarding candidates or volunteers. The process typically involves reviewing information from many different types of public records to verify information provided by a candidate and collecting additional information as needed.

There are several types of background checks Washington employers may choose to conduct during pre-employment screenings that can help provide important insights about a candidate’s history. Screenings may vary based on the role, but could include a candidate’s criminal history, driving records, or verification of employment or education. Washington employers may also use a Washington background check for employment for ongoing or periodic employee screenings. 

Common Washington Background Checks 

From criminal history and motor vehicle history to credit checks and education and employment verification, there are several types of background checks Washington employers can use. 

Washington Background Check For Employment

A Washington background check for employment may include different types of screenings, including:

  • Criminal background check to reveal felony or misdemeanor criminal convictions.
  • Employment verification to confirm a candidate’s previous employers, job titles, and dates of work.
  • Education verification to confirm a candidate’s academic credentials, including dates of attendance, degrees earned, and graduation date.
  • Motor vehicle records to review an applicant’s driving history, including license status, moving violations, and DUIs. 
  • Credit checks to assess a candidate’s credit history, including payment history, bankruptcies, and accounts in collections (where allowed by Washington state law)
  • Drug testing to screen a candidate for controlled substances, including prescription and illicit drugs.

Washington State Criminal Background Check

A Washington state criminal background check can help employers make an informed decision about a candidate’s eligibility for a role. Depending on the scope of the search, a criminal background check may search federal, state, and county databases for criminal records. The results may reveal a range of criminal information, including felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions and pending criminal cases. Arrests pending prosecution may also appear. 

In Washington state, however, employers may be required to follow ban-the-box laws as well as other federal, state, and local regulations when conducting and using criminal background reports in hiring decisions. (See “Washington State Background Check Laws” and “County Resources,” below.) 

Washington State Patrol Background Check

A Washington State Patrol background check is done through the Washington State Patrol, the state’s law enforcement agency, and includes fingerprint-based criminal history records along with information provided by Washington courts and law enforcement agencies. Criminal records are maintained in the Washington State Identification System (WASIS) until a person reaches 120 years of age. 

Criminal records can be requested by certified criminal justice agencies. The public may also request records, but information is limited to convictions and recent arrests less than one year old that have pending dispositions. The public can also access information related to registered sex offenders or kidnappers. Requests can be submitted online, through the mail, or in person. 

Washington State Drug Testing

Drug screening tests for the presence of prescription and illicit drugs to meet company policy and drug-free workplace obligations, while helping maintain a safe workplace. Employers in Washington state may require candidates to undergo drug testing prior to employment and existing employees may also be asked to submit to drug testing under certain circumstances. These include the employer’s belief that the employee’s performance has been impaired as a result of being under the influence or an accident or incident has occurred. In Washington, drug testing may also be required for employees that provide security on state property or ensure public safety; jobs that dispense medication; or roles requiring a firearm. 

How Long Does A Background Check Take In Washington State?

Depending on the type of reports being requested and who is conducting the screening, the turnaround time for a Washington background check can vary. For example, a Washington State Patrol background check can be requested online through Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH) with results available immediately. This search is limited to records in the state of Washington and will not include federal criminal records from records from other states (at the state or county level).

Employers looking for quicker turnaround times; more comprehensive, legally-compliant results; and a more streamlined process may choose to work with a trusted CRA, like GoodHire, for background screenings. 

GoodHire has access to many types of databases and public records, plus relationships with courthouses across the US — all of which help speed turnaround times (and return thorough results) for background checks.

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Washington State Background Check Laws

Employers that conduct Washington state background checks must comply with both federal and state regulations, as well as local laws, which may include ban-the-box and fair hiring laws that vary by county and city. These laws are designed to help protect candidates from bias and discrimination should information surface during criminal background checks. 

Here is what you need to know about Washington state background check laws. 

Ban-the-Box Law

The Washington Fair Chance Act applies to all Washington employers (both public and private sector) when conducting pre-employment background checks. Employers can only inquire into criminal history after the applicant is found to be “otherwise qualified.” There are also county- and city-specific ban-the-box laws across the state. Learn more.

Use of Arrest Information

The Washington Human Rights Commission mandates that employers in Washington state cannot use information about a candidate’s arrests that did not result in convictions. But, pending cases and arrests that resulted in convictions may be considered. Learn more.

Credit Report Law

Under RCW 19.182.020, employers are generally restricted from requesting a candidate’s credit reports. However, a credit report can be requested during employment screenings if the information is substantially related to the job’s requirements or if it is required by federal or state law. Learn more.

Social Media Law

RCW 49.44.200 is designed to protect certain aspects of people’s social media accounts. Under this law, employers in Washington state cannot require a candidate or existing employee to provide personal social media login credentials or open their social media in front of an employer. Learn more.

Employers are also prohibited from asking for social media privacy settings to be changed in order to view a person’s page or request to be added as a contact. Exceptions may apply if reports have been received that are related to the employee’s social media activities. 

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

All employers in Washington that use background check reports from CRAs must comply with federal FCRA requirements. Under the FCRA, you must ensure proper disclosure of your intent to conduct a background check, obtain written consent from the candidate, and follow the adverse action process should the results of the background check reveal information that causes you to make an adverse employment decision, such as declining to hire the candidate.

If you are unsure of Washington state background check laws, employers may wish to consult with their legal counsel and/or comply with the strictest laws to avoid potential liability. 

County Resources

Use the resources below to learn about ban-the-box laws and public records in some of Washington’s largest counties:

Benton County

Located in the south-central portion of Washington, Benton County is home to more than 200,000 residents. Thanks to its short driving distance from larger urban areas such as Seattle, Portland, Boise, and Spokane, Benton County is a popular tourist destination for festivals, agritourism, conferences, and sporting events. More than one-third of the county is public land that is overseen by both the state and federal governments, some of which include protected wildlife areas, parklands, open spaces, and restricted “nuclear tourism” sites. The county also has several colleges and museums.

Public Information & Records:

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Clark County

Home to more than half a million people, Clark County is Washington’s oldest county and also one of its most populous. It was named after William Clark, from this historical Lewis and Clark Expedition, and is a mix of both urban and rural areas. The county is popular with tourists for outdoor activities, scenic drives along the Lewis and Clark Trail, historical sites, museums, and the arts. It’s home to Washington State University Vancouver as well as both the Washington State School for the Blind and the Washington State School for the Deaf. 

Public Information & Records:

King County

King County has more than two million residents and its county seat is Seattle, which is Washington’s most populous city. It is also home to two federally-recognized tribes, including the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Snoqualmie Indian Tribe. There are many lakes and rivers in the county, mountains, beaches and islands, along with national forests and historic parks. Famous attractions include the Space Needle and Pike Place Fish Market, plus countless historic and cultural attractions. 

Public Information & Records:

A ban-the-box law applies to both public and private sector employers for the city of Seattle.

Kitsap County

This Washington state county is home to more than 275,000 residents. Although much of the county is located inland, Kitsap County also has more than 250 miles of shoreline on the Puget Sound with access to Seattle via a short ferry ride. Kitsap Peninsula and Bainbridge Island are popular tourist destinations thanks to their close proximity to Seattle and abundance of breweries, wineries, historical attractions and outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and backpacking. The county is also home to botanical gardens, museums, and casinos. 

Public Information & Records:

Pierce County

Pierce County is home to nearly a million residents, making it the second most populous county in Washington state. Mount Rainier, Washington’s highest natural point and volcano, is located in Pierce County along with a nationally protected park, forest, and wildlife refuge. The county has a thriving arts community and a rich agricultural history with Pierce County producing about half of the rhubarb in the US. Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a dual United States Army and Airforce base, is the county’s largest employee. Healthcare is also a key industry and along with the port activities at the Port of Tacoma, the sixth busiest container in the US and among the top 25 busiest in the world. 

Public Information & Records:

Ban-the-box laws apply to public sector employers for Pierce County and the city of Tacoma. 

Snohomish County

Snohomish County is the third most populous county in Washington. It is part of the Seattle metropolitan area with the majority of the country’s population living in the western portion that faces Puget Sound. Nearly 70 percent of the county is classified as forestland and the eastern portion is home to the Cascade Range, part of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The county’s top industry is aerospace. The world headquarters of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, along with many other aerospace manufacturers, employ hundreds of thousands of residents.

Public Information & Records:

Spokane County

Located in eastern Washington, Spokane County is home to more than 539,000 residents. Its largest city and county seat is Spokane. The county has a diverse geography with rivers, lakes, and mountains. There are also many state parks, a conservation area, and nationally-protected wildlife refuge. The county’s largest employer is Fairchild Air Force Base. Other key industries include government and higher education, medical services, retail trade, and finance.

Public Information & Records:

Ban-the box laws apply to public and private sector employees in Spokane County and the city of Spokane.

Thurston County

Located in western Washington on the southern end of Puget Sound, Thurston County is home to nearly 300,000 people. The county seat is the city of Olympia which is also the state capital. Thurston County is just 60 miles south of Seattle and 100 miles north of Portland, Oregon. Historically, the county’s key industries included lumber and mining. Today, the county’s key employers include state, federal, and local government institutions. The country has a thriving arts and music scene, along with breweries, local farms, and many outdoor activities.

Public Information & Records:

Whatcom County

Located in Washington’s northwestern corner, Whatcom County is home to more than 225,000 people. The county has a thriving agricultural industry, producing about 80 percent of the raspberries we consume in the US. Historically, it was known for coal mines, logging, and canneries. Whatcom County borders Canada and has several official border crossings, which helps boost the county economy. The county has many state and national protected areas, including parks, trails, and coastal areas. It also has several universities and colleges.

Public Information & Records:

Yakima County

Home to more than 250,000 residents, Yakima County is located in south central Washington state. The county is surrounded by mountains and known as one of the most difficult spots on earth to predict the weather. Yakima County produces more than 40 perfect of Washington’s wine products, thanks to 300 days of sunshine and varied growing conditions across the county’s wine regions. It also produces hops and beer, along with many types of agricultural products. The county has a thriving tourism industry with its many arts, cultural, and outdoor activities. 

Public Information & Records

Get A Washington Background Check With GoodHire

A qualified CRA, like GoodHire, can help Washington employers streamline the background check process. Not only does partnering with a trusted CRA help provide more accurate reports and quicker turnaround times, it can also help your organization more easily navigate legal compliance at the federal, state, and local level.

GoodHire offers more than 100 screening options through our online platform with easy-to-use tools and automated workflows. If you need more support, GoodHire’s dedicated FCRA-trained support team is available to help at all stages of the background check process. Get started today, or talk to our sales team to learn how your organization can incorporate Washington background checks in your screening process. 

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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.