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Close Up On Small Claims Judgments & Background Checks

A gavel on a pile of currency as part of a small claims court judgement.

Do small claims show up on background checks? It depends on the type of background check you use. GoodHire is breaking down what employers should know.

It’s a question that comes up often when it comes to small claims and employment screenings: Do small claims show up on background checks? For employers and candidates, the answer is more detailed and nuanced than a simple yes or no.

GoodHire is sharing an up-close look at small claims judgments, whether they show up on background checks, and how employers can use the results to make the most informed hiring decisions for their business.

Types Of Small Claims Judgments

Also called ‘lower’ claims judgments, these generally involve disputes over money and collecting debts. Small claims judgments are heard in a state-level civil court, and these cases are divided between two courts: Lower Civil Court and Upper Civil Court. What’s the difference? Typically the dollar amount.

Most states divide these courts based on the amount disputed in the claim. Each state has a set dollar amount that determines which court hears the claim; anything at or below is handled in the lower court, and anything above is handled in the upper court. And while cases are divided by monetary amount, the type of cases filed in the lower court can extend beyond debt collection. 

Lower civil courts can also include claims that involve disputes over:

  • Loan repayment
  • Security deposits
  • Faulty car repairs
  • Property damage
  • Personal injuries (that aren’t resolved between insurance companies)
  • Contract breaches
  • Defamation (libel or slander)
  • Product liability
  • Malpractice

Do Small Claims Show Up On Background Checks?

It depends on the type of background check that’s ordered and what type of results you’re looking for during the screening process. That’s because a background check is typically composed of several different types of screenings, like criminal record checks, driving record (MVR) checks, and education verification checks

Small claims will only show up on a background check if a Civil Court Background Check is included in the background screening. Whether a Civil Court Background Check is ordered depends on your organization’s screening policy and the specific types of positions for which you’re hiring.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of background checks you might use, the results they provide, and when you can gain insight into potential information about small claims on a candidate’s record.

Criminal Background Checks

Small claims will not show up in criminal background checks. Instead, you’ll learn more about a candidate’s criminal history through national, federal, state, and county database searches. Depending on the search, those results include information such as:

  • Felony criminal convictions (e.g., murder, kidnapping, rape, arson, and aggravated assault)
  • Misdemeanor criminal convictions (e.g., trespassing, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and public intoxication)
  • Any pending criminal cases against a candidate

Civil Court Background Checks

Small claims may show up in Civil Court Background Check, depending on the type of civil court background check that’s ordered. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Lower Civil Court Search

Small claims will show up on a Lower Civil Court Check. That’s because this check searches lower county court records for small claims and other minor disputes. 

However, what qualifies as a small claim depends on the state and counties the check is conducted in—and how that state classifies lower court claims vs. upper court claims (in other words: what the maximum small claim monetary amount is).

For example, if an employer conducts a lower civil court check in Georgia, where the maximum dollar amount for a small claim is $15,000, any claim less than that will be revealed. But in Kentucky, where the maximum dollar amount is only $2,500, anything more than that will not show up in the results.

It’s also important to remember that not all small claims will show up through this type of background check due to when they were filed. That’s because most employers only search back seven years. In some instances, that search can be expanded to 10 years if the candidate’s salary will be $75,000 or more. But in some states, including California, New Mexico, Montana, and Massachusetts, the search cannot extend beyond seven years.

Upper Civil Court Search

Small claims will not show up in an Upper Civil Court Check. Why? These screenings only search for claims made in upper civil courts, which are typically claims that involve a monetary amount greater than those in lower courts. So, again, depending on the state’s maximum dollar amount, what may not qualify as upper civil claims in some states may differ in others.

Just as lower civil court checks, though, searches usually go back only seven years (or up to 10 years in the same scenario of salaries that are $75,000 or more). The same four states— California, New Mexico, Montana, and Massachusetts—prohibit upper civil court checks to extend beyond seven years.

Federal Civil Court Search

Small claims will not show up in Federal Civil Court Checks. This type of screening searches 94 federal courts to uncover civil cases  filed in federal court, which may include large contract disputes, tort damages, civil rights, and class action lawsuits. 

Federal Civil Court Checks through GoodHire will find cases filed within the last seven years.

Federal Bankruptcy Search

Small claims will not show up in Federal Bankruptcy Court Checks. This screening also combs through federal bankruptcy courts, looking for bankruptcy filings—including Chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcies. 

Employers may also learn additional details surrounding the filing, like the case or file number, date filed, discharge date, and those listed as petitioners. Employers can search for bankruptcies filed within the last ten years.

Why Small Claim Judgments Are Important For Employers

To hire the most qualified candidates, employers want to gather as much relevant information as it pertains to the position. For example, for jobs that require significant levels of responsibility—like management or overseeing finance—small claims involving owed debt may be informative of how candidates manage their personal finances (and how that decision-making may translate to their role). 

As another example, if an employer is seeking to fill a position that requires objectivity, learning about small claims like libel and slander or contract breaches may reveal that the candidate may not be the best fit for that role. 

Beyond that, conducting Civil Court Background Checks help companies continue to:

  • Safeguard assets
  • Comply with industry regulations
  • Follow company screening and hiring policies

Make Informed & Fair Hiring Decisions With Civil Court Background Checks

When conducting Civil Court Background Checks as part of a comprehensive background check—including small claims made in lower civil courts—it helps to use a professional background screener that can deliver accurate, up-to-date, legally reportable results so you make the most informed (and fair) hiring decisions.

GoodHire carefully adheres to federal, state, and local laws to help you maintain compliance during every step of the screening process. That includes following the requirements set forth by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and guiding you through the mandatory adverse action steps, should you decide not to hire based on the results of a background check.

GoodHire offers hundreds of screening options, including Upper & Lower Civil Court Checks, Federal Court Checks, and Federal Bankruptcy Checks.

Add Civil Court Checks To Your Screening Package

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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

Ashley Blonquist is a former news journalist. She writes about GoodHire’s employment screening services and how employers use them to make informed hiring decisions.