What Shows Up on a Background Check?

What do a background check show? Because background checks can reveal highly sensitive information, both employers and job candidates should understand what is included in each type of background check and how that information can legally be used.

We answer the most frequently asked questions about what appears on different kinds of background checks, including employment background checks, criminal background checks, fingerprint background checks, and Level 2 background checks.

A quick scan of the background check landscape reveals that there are many different types of background checks. Each type of background check uncovers somewhat different personal background information. It’s important for both employers and job candidates to understand what kind of information is included in each type of background check, and how that information can be used.

Information uncovered in employment background checks is highly sensitive and subject to strict privacy-protection regulations. The use of background checks in connection with hiring decisions is also subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and requirements specified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The sharing and retention of this information also may be subject to additional state and local guidelines.

When conducting employment background checks, it’s important to select a provider that is an accredited FCRA-compliant consumer reporting agency (CRA), such as GoodHire.

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Many employers and job candidates want to know what information is included in a background check, so we’ve compiled answers to the following common questions:

Criminal History

Nearly all background checks include a criminal-history check, based on information supplied by the candidate, including their Social Security number. Criminal background checks will reveal felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions, any pending criminal cases, and any history of incarceration as an adult. Arrests pending prosecution may also be reported. Arrests that did not lead to convictions may appear in some background checks; GoodHire excludes them in its screenings to conform to EEOC guidelines.

Records of juvenile convictions and detention that have been sealed by a court typically do not appear in these searches, but all other criminal convictions may appear, unless they occurred in a state that forbids disclosure of convictions after a certain period of time. Disclosure of convictions more than seven years old is forbidden in California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, New York and Washington. Hawaii forbids disclosure of convictions after seven years for felonies and five years for misdemeanors [updated 9/21/2020]. (Learn more about how far back a background check goes, or see your state’s specific background check laws.)


Pre-employment background checks typically include criminal-background checks, plus verification of information on past employment, education, and professional licenses.

Depending on the nature of the job under consideration, employers may specify that pre-hiring screenings search candidates’ driving records. Employers may also require applicants to submit to drug testing as part of the pre-employment screening process. Pre-employment drug screening is required for many jobs that involve operation of motor vehicles, hazardous or delicate equipment, and/or in any role entailing responsibility for the safety of the public, customers, or fellow employees. Learn more in the Complete Guide to Background Checks.

State and federal laws limit some of what can be reported on employment background checks:

  • If a candidate is under consideration for a job that pays less than $75,000 annually, information on civil judgments, government sanctions, and disciplinary measures related to any professional licenses will not appear in background check results.
  • However, if the salary for an open position is $75,000 or more, that information may appear in your results, even if it’s older than seven years.

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“Fingerprint background check” is something of a catch-all term. As its name indicates, it involves the use of a candidate’s fingerprints in addition to other personal information to locate historical information. The advantage of a fingerprint search is certainty that all records associated with a given set of prints belong to the individual in question.

The precise nature of a fingerprint search can vary, depending on the type of information requested by the employer and the databases used by the screening company. Typically, a fingerprint check involves using the FBI criminal-records database, but other, smaller Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database systems may be searched instead of, or in addition to, the FBI system.


Often used to screen candidates for jobs with federal government agencies and companies that work with and for them, an FBI-level background check uncovers any and every interaction a candidate may have had with law enforcement agencies that provide their criminal data to the FBI database. In addition to convictions, this may include arrests (even those that did not lead to indictment or conviction), traffic violations, and even parking tickets.

Applicants must submit to fingerprinting by a recognized law enforcement agency, and their prints are checked against the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a vast computerized repository of fingerprints compiled by law enforcement agencies, immigration officials, and even past employment screenings. The IACIS database links personal data to fingerprints collected in both criminal and non-criminal matters.

Fingerprints are also checked against the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a huge compilation of criminal-history information and data on wanted criminals; and against databases of sex offenders and terrorists.

FBI background checks have come under some scrutiny in recent years, on grounds that bureau databases are not always complete, and because the records they contain may create disparate impacts in instances involving minority job applicants.

Passing an FBI background check is not the same as obtaining a security clearance. A background check may be a first step in the process, but security clearance typically involves a much more extensive research, including interviews with the subject and others who know him or her well.

What does a Level 2 background check include?

A Level 2 background check is a specialized type of fingerprint background check typically performed on candidates for jobs that involve working with vulnerable persons, such as children, people with disabilities, and seniors. Level 2 checks are also often required for volunteer positions at schools, daycares, and senior centers as well as for paid personnel. They are also often required for adults seeking to adopt or become foster parents.

A Level 2 background screen checks applicants against databases of information on arrests, convictions, and incarceration related to violent behavior and crimes against children and other vulnerable persons. A Level 2 check will even uncover relevant records that have been sealed by courts, including juvenile convictions and detention. 

Table shows what shows up on different types of background checks

More Background Check Result FAQs

Do traffic tickets show up on a background check?

It depends. Many CRAs report traffic infractions as part of the background check. However, GoodHire does not unless an employer specifically requests a check on your driving record (as they might for jobs that require use of motor vehicles). If they do, then speeding tickets and other driving infractions will appear.

Do DUIs show up on a background check?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offense and will be reported on a criminal background check. If a pre-employment background screening includes a driving record check or motor vehicle record check (MVR), a DUI conviction is likely to appear there as well.

To learn more about DUIs and background checks, see DUIs & Background Checks: What It Means For Employment

Do misdemeanors show up on a background check?

A criminal background check can include misdemeanor criminal convictions, as well as any pending cases. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses which are typically subject to a potential prison sentence between 15 days and one year in a local prison, or a sentence that doesn’t include any jail time but may include fines, probation and/or community service. Examples of misdemeanors include vandalism, trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct.

Do arrests show up on a background check?

Arrests that did not lead to convictions may appear in some criminal background checks as long as the filing date of the case is within the last seven years, as allowed by federal and state law. However, GoodHire excludes them in its screenings to conform to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.

Do criminal convictions older than seven years show up on a background check?

In most states they do. Some states, though, restrict the release of records that are more than seven, or in some cases 10, years in the past. Some states also have restrictions based on the amount of salary the candidate will earn. Kansas, for instance, restricts the release of records more than seven years old unless the candidate’s salary will be $20,000 or more annually.

Do warrants show up on a background check?

Open arrest warrants (issued when law enforcement gives evidence that a suspect has committed a crime) and bench warrants (issued for failure to appear for a scheduled court proceeding) generally do not appear as records in background checks. However, once a warrant has been executed, it becomes part of the criminal record, and its existence may be reflected in a criminal background check. 

Do dismissed charges show up on a background check?

Cases resulting in dismissal may appear in some criminal background checks. Sometimes, even if the court has sealed case records, the arrest that led to the case may appear in a criminal background search. Federal EEOC guidelines forbid turning down job candidates on the sole basis of arrests that don’t lead to conviction. GoodHire excludes dismissed charges from its background check results.

Do pending charges show up on a background check?

If a criminal background check is requested, pending charges can show up. However, there are states that prohibit pending charges from showing up on background checks. Kentucky prohibits CRAs from reporting pending charges. This applies for all records that come from Kentucky, regardless of where the employer or candidate are located. In Michigan, employers cannot consider pending misdemeanors – only pending felonies.

Do restraining orders show up on a background check?

A restraining order (known as an order protection in some states) is considered a civil matter. It generally will not appear in a criminal background check, unless included as a footnote in the sentencing portion of a criminal record, but it may appear in public information databases and websites used by some pre-employment screeners. Violations of these orders are criminal matters, however, and arrests and court cases surrounding them will appear in criminal background checks.

Do bankruptcies show up on a background check?

Bankruptcies do not appear in results of criminal background checks, and under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), bankruptcy filings cannot be reported in pre-employment screenings once they are 10 years old. Because they are a matter of public record, bankruptcies are generally easy to discover. Filings more than 10 years old may appear in non-FCRA compliant background checks.

Do expunged or sealed records show up on a background check?

When a court expunges a conviction or trial record, the case files are sealed off from public access, and the convicted party or defendant does not have to disclose the case when asked about their criminal history. Sealed cases are not eligible for disclosure in most pre-employment background checks. If there is a significant time delay between the resolution of a case and the decision to expunge it, its records may continue to appear in criminal-background database searches until records are updated to reflect the expungement. The existence of expunged convictions that involve mistreatment of children or other vulnerable individuals may be legally reported in Level 2 background checks, though unsealing the details of those records typically requires a court order.

What will show up on your background check?

The contents of background check reports can vary considerably, depending on the nature of information required by the employer, and the number and quality of the information resources used by the screening company. The best way to ensure a check complies with federal and local regulations is to work with an FCRA-compliant background check provider, such as GoodHire. And the best way to see what will appear on your FCRA-compliant background check is to run one on yourself

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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.

About the Author

Jim Akin is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor with experience in employee relations, media relations, and social-media outreach. He has produced content and managed internal communications, business-to-business outreach, and consumer-focused campaigns for clients including Experian, VantageScore Solutions, Pitney Bowes, Medtronic, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola.

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