What terms appear on a criminal background check, and how should employers read them? Learn how to read and understand them in a few simple steps.
How far back does a background check go? In general, background checks cover seven years of criminal and court records, but some may go back further. Federal and state employment laws may also limit how far back employers can search. Employers must be knowledgeable of the different types of background checks and their lookback periods to ensure compliant, informed hiring decisions.
Different background checks can vary in how much candidate history can be searched legally and used compliantly, so it’s important to understand the areas that may affect the length of history that is checked in a candidate’s background.
For example, regulations in certain states and cities may impact how far back you can look. You’ll also need to know what’s included in specific background checks, such as criminal record checks, employment credit checks, and driving record checks. It is also important to consider the type of screening that is most appropriate for the nature of the position.
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How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?
Different types of background checks search for different information and cover different lengths of time in a candidate’s personal history. In general, background checks for employment typically cover seven years of criminal and court records, but may go back further depending on federal and state laws and what is being searched.
We’ll discuss different types of background checks and how far back in time they can look in greater detail below, but here is a quick summary:
|Type of Check||Length of Time|
|Pre-employment background checks||Pre-employment background checks commonly used by employers typically cover 7 years of criminal and court records, but can go back further depending on federal and state laws and what is being searched|
|Bankruptcy checks||Bankruptcies can go back as far as 10 years|
|Credit history checks||Employment credit checks go back a minimum of 7 years. More history may be available depending on the candidate’s expected salary and specific state laws. Some state laws may further restrict the specific kinds of credit data that can be reported and for how long|
|Criminal felonies||Felonies may be reported indefinitely, or restricted to 7 years, depending on the state where the candidate lives or works|
|Criminal misdemeanors and minor infractions||Misdemeanors may be reported indefinitely, or restricted to 3, 5 or 7 years, depending on the state where the candidate lives or works|
|Driving records check||Driving records may go back between 3 to 10 years, depending on the state|
|Educational history||May be verified throughout their lifetime, although some background check providers may limit to 7 years of history|
|Employment history||May be verified throughout their lifetime, although some background check providers may limit to 7 years of history|
|Professional license verification||May be verified throughout their lifetime, although some background check providers may limit to 7 years of history|
REGULATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS
Keep in mind that the applicable rules, regulations, and compliance requirements for different types of background checks will vary depending on the location of your candidates and the location of your business. Employers must follow federal regulations and adhere to local laws when using background checks to make hiring decisions.
FEDERAL FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT (FCRA)
Pre-employment background checks are governed by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). FCRA regulations require employers to receive a candidate’s written permission before running a background check and give the candidate a chance to respond to any findings that might prevent them from being hired or promoted.
Additionally, the FCRA limits how far back any specific background check can search in a candidate’s or employee’s history.
The FCRA forbids consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which include third-party background check providers and the national credit bureaus, from reporting the following information in a consumer report or background check:
- Bankruptcies older than 10 years from the date of the report
- Civil suits, civil judgments, and records of arrest that are older than 7 years
- Paid tax liens older than 7 years from the date of the report
- Collections accounts (unpaid bills turned over to collections agencies) older than 7 years from the date of the report
- Other adverse information (aside from criminal convictions) that is older than 7 years from the date of the report
The FCRA permits background check providers to report arrests for up to seven years, including cases where charges are dismissed. Court proceedings that did not lead to conviction are also reportable for up to seven years. These “non-convictions” may include instances where charges are dismissed before trial, where a trial results in a verdict of not guilty, or when an individual qualifies for dismissal of charges upon completion of a diversionary program.
Many states, counties, and even individual cities have enacted laws that impose additional restrictions on what you may search, and how far back, when checking a candidate’s history.
Arrests & Non-Convictions
The FCRA permits arrests and court proceedings to appear on background checks for seven years, even if they did not lead to a conviction, but the following states prohibit reporting of non-convictions in background checks:
- Kentucky (if the criminal record originates from a Kentucky court)
- New Mexico
- New York
Three states permit arrests to be reported in background checks, but they prohibit employers from asking candidates about them unless the offense led to a conviction:
- Michigan (misdemeanor arrests only)
Two states allow employers to consider only arrests for which charges are still pending:
- New York
Wisconsin limits consideration of arrest records to charges substantially related to the job in question.
Georgia prohibits employers from disqualifying an individual for employment on the basis of a criminal record that was successfully discharged under the state’s First Offender Act. Exceptions exist for certain types of employment, including work with children or vulnerable populations and peace officer positions.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides detailed, nuanced guidance on the consideration of arrests that did not lead to conviction (or whose outcomes cannot be confirmed through available public records) when such records are returned in a background check. In light of this guidance, and the EEOC’s focus in recent years on reducing bias in hiring practices, GoodHire excludes non-convictions in background check results.
Designed to help promote fair chance hiring for justice-impacted individuals, state and local ban-the-box laws may limit the nature and extent of information that can be considered by employers in the hiring process, as well as the timing of an employer’s inquiry into a candidate’s background. Currently, over 180 localities have ban-the-box laws in place.
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How Far Back Do Criminal Background Checks Go?
Criminal convictions may be reported indefinitely on background checks for jobs of all kinds and salary levels, except in states that impose seven-year limits on reporting of criminal records, or where other local restrictions apply (see table below for details).
At the state and county levels, misdemeanor criminal records are typically reported for seven years, but older misdemeanor records may be reported if readily accessible (for example, if the jurisdiction’s records are digitized) and if local laws permit. Juvenile records and other court-sealed documents typically do not appear in Criminal background checks.
7-Year Background Check States
The following table provides an overview of 7-year background-check states—those that generally forbid reporting of criminal convictions records more than seven years after the fact. Where exceptions to the 7-year rule are permitted, they are noted.
|State||Length of Time|
|California||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions (including full pardons, arrests not leading to conviction, and other dismissed records) cannot be reported|
|Hawaii||Consideration of felony convictions is restricted to 7 years, consideration of misdemeanor/infraction convictions is limited to 5 years; non-convictions cannot be considered in pre-employment background checks|
|Kansas||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more|
|Maryland||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more|
|Massachusetts||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions cannot be reported in pre-employment background checks|
|Montana||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions cannot be reported in pre-employment background checks|
|New Hampshire||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more|
|New Mexico||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions cannot be reported|
|New York||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $25,000 or more; non-convictions cannot be reported|
|Washington||Reporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years, unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more|
10-Year Background Check States
The remaining 40 states, and Washington DC, are sometimes characterized as 10-year background check states, but the term is somewhat misleading, as criminal convictions in those states may be reported indefinitely – for 10 years and beyond. The FCRA and EEOC guidelines apply to all states; the absence of ban-the-box laws in states like Texas and Florida generally means less regulation around how employers may consider criminal records in the hiring process.
How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go?
The FCRA imposes some restrictions based on the salary associated with the position to be filled. If the salary is less than $75,000, some information cannot be reported, such as:
- Civil judgments more than seven years old
- Government sanctions more than seven years old
- Disciplinary actions attached to professional licenses more than seven years old
- Bankruptcy filings more than 10 years old
However, if the salary for the position is $75,000 or more, the FCRA permits that information to be included in pre-employment background checks, even if it’s older than the prescribed time limits. Certain state laws, if applicable, may still limit the reporting of this information to seven or 10 years.
If regulations require recurring records checks on employees or if you’ve adopted a company-wide policy of continuous monitoring, the FCRA requires that employers collect written consent for both pre-employment and post-hire background checks. In such cases, you may consider collecting “evergreen consent” from relevant employees in most states.
How Far Back Do Federal Background Checks Go?
Federal background checks may reveal a lifetime criminal history for convictions and pending cases prosecuted in federal court, though results are still governed by the reporting laws described above.
Federal agencies responsible for national security may conduct additional screenings, separate from a search conducted through a CRA, that examine lifelong activities, group affiliations, personal relationships, and social media activity.
How Far Back Do FBI Background Checks Go?
An FBI background check may uncover criminal history (and lesser encounters with law enforcement) from any point in a candidate’s adult life, but the FCRA’s seven-year reporting limit and any applicable state restrictions still apply to background screenings conducted through a background check provider (also known as a consumer reporting agency).
How Far Back Do Fingerprint Background Checks Go?
“Fingerprint background check” is a catch-all term for screenings that use a candidate’s fingerprints along with other personal information to locate historical information. Since that information is typically part of a candidate’s criminal history, reporting restrictions are the same as those that apply to criminal records in a given jurisdiction, as long as the screening is conducted via a background check provider. The information revealed in a fingerprint search can vary, depending on the nature of information you request, the databases used by the screening company, and your legal authority to retrieve criminal information.
How Far Back Do Level 2 Background Checks Go?
A Level 2 background check is a specialized fingerprint background check that can uncover criminal history from any point in an individual’s life, including juvenile records that cannot be reported in other types of pre-employment background checks.
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. Level 2 checks may be required in some states (like Florida) and are often conducted directly through local law enforcement agencies on personnel and volunteers at schools, daycares, and elder-care facilities, and for adults seeking to adopt or become foster parents.
Get A Background Check With GoodHire
The breadth of available background checks and the location-specific limits on how far back they can look can pose significant challenges to hiring managers and HR teams, particularly those responsible for hiring in multiple jurisdictions. Partnering with an FCRA-compliant service provider, like GoodHire, can save valuable time and reduce the administrative burden.
GoodHire provides fast, reliable background checks with built-in features for simplified compliance with federal, state, and municipal laws on background reporting. With hundreds of screening options, GoodHire enables you to make informed hiring decisions no matter what type of background check you’re conducting.
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.