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What Is a Criminal Background Check?

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Posted by: David Garcia April 23, 2024

As a recruiter and hiring professional, it’s your responsibility to understand the intricacies of screenings applicants will undergo.

To field questions and help place people in the best roles possible, it’s crucial to understand how criminal background checks work. We will cover what recruiters need to know and consider regarding criminal background checks in this article.

What is a Criminal Background Check?

Criminal background checks only cover a potential history of crimes committed. They do not verify employment, education, driving records, or certification checks. If those searches are important to you, there are additional types of soft checks to run.

However, if you want to make an educated decision about hiring someone based on their criminal record, then a criminal background check offers you that information.

Why Is a Criminal Background Check Important?

Criminal background checks are essential for several reasons. Whether this is to secure suitable employees or hire the right person for your team, they’re also important when volunteering or working with children, older people, or in serious occupations such as medicinal practices, high-ranking finance positions, or positions to do with civil safety.

Background checks work for both parties. For the organization, background checks are necessary for ensuring the safety and stability of the current team the individual is being onboarded to, and for the individual, in “proving” their reliability, creating a relationship based on trust and transparency.

Aside from this, criminal background checks are useful for due diligence and legal compliance. They protect any assets and reputations of businesses and help to promote equal opportunities and fair hiring practices by creating a standard evaluation for all interviewees to pass, rather than a “case by case” basis.

Criminal background checks help hiring managers and business owners as a necessary safeguarding tool for themselves, their properties, and their current teams and employees. They also help to curate a safe and appealing working environment of reliable employees.

When used properly and fairly following the US law on equal employment opportunities, criminal background checks are nothing to be wary of. They act simply as a piece of information on an individual’s history, which cannot be used to discriminate against them.

Even if the decision is made not to hire the individual because of something discovered through criminal background checks, the employer must follow state and federal laws when dismissing their application with adverse action.

How Do Criminal Background Checks Work?

The individual must provide written consent for a check to be conducted, which will start with regular information provided by the individual – name, date of birth, social security number, etc. When the type of check has been selected (often criminal background, includingmisdemeanors, DUIs, work history, or any other types), the check provider will often utilize court records.

This is to check for any legal troubles the individual may be involved in. The Department of Corrections records also check for probation clauses or incarcerations, the sex offender registry to check for any sexual assault or harassment-related crimes, or warrant lists for any outstanding warrants or if the individual is “wanted” by any law enforcement.

This information will then be compiled into a report and sent to the employer or organization who asked for it. Regardless of their decision to hire the individual or not, they must comply with state laws when handling the information given to them in order to avoid any discrimination or unlawful hiring practices.

What Types of Criminal Background Checks Exist?

There are several different levels of background checks to which you can subject your potential employees to uncover their criminal records. The basic categories are as follows:

  • County Criminal Searches – These searches only reveal criminal history in a single county. Sometimes they may be limited to felonies; however, you may also uncover misdemeanors, infractions, and probations.
  • State Criminal Searches – These searches are a bit broader and include all criminal history within the state. Not all states have criminal databases, and those that do may not collect data from all counties.
  • Federal Criminal Searches – Even broader still, these searches tap into data from federal district and appellate courts, which can tell you if your potential employee has committed a federal crime anywhere in the United States. Federal crimes include things like tax evasion, fraud, and kidnapping.
  • International Watch List – If the Department of State has deemed your potential employee to be a threat to the nation, then their name will appear on this list.
  • National Criminal Database Searches – These searches come from databases which typically “screen scrape” records from county websites and collect data from other sources (e.g. department of correction records). These databases are exhaustive and should be used in conjunction with county criminal searches.

What Shows Up on a Criminal Background Check?

However, you can expect to find the following components on most criminal background checks.

  • Name (including any other aliases they may be known as)
  • Criminal convictions

Each listing will usually include the name of the crime, its disposition, and the date of the disposition. You could think of the disposition as the status of the crime, which generally falls into one of the three categories of conviction, non-conviction, or pending.

Some criminal background checks may also list infractions, which are usually only punishable by fines and not jail time. Infractions are not typically considered criminal, which is why they are not always listed. Examples of infractions include littering, public intoxication, and jaywalking.

How Long Does Conducting a Criminal Background Check Take?

While there are criminal background checks you can conduct that can return information to you in a matter of hours, these checks are generally less reliable than others. It would be best if you considered how much time you have as well as how accurate you need this pre-employment screening to be to determine which criminal background screening will be the best for your purposes.

The quickest criminal background checks merely run your candidate through a national crime database. However, you should be aware that this database is not considered a primary source because it takes information from several different sources, including various levels of court records. It is also unclear how exactly this database is updated, so you cannot be entirely sure that the information you will find is completely accurate.

If you want to run a thorough criminal background check, this process can take one to three days. If you are interested in discovering county criminal convictions, then that process can take from a few hours to a few days depending on the county. However, the county criminal background check process can take even longer if the records in your county have not been entirely digitized, and you will need to enlist the help of a county court clerk.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does a Criminal Background Check Take?

Depending on the kind of check selected, a background check can take anywhere from one to ten days to be returned to the organization.

How Far Back Does a Criminal Background Check Go?

Depending on each state, the length of time that a check can access will vary. Some states keep all information for criminal records forever, whereas some don’t go further than five, seven, or ten years back.

Final Thoughts

Criminal background checks aren’t anything to be afraid of, as they can’t be used unlawfully against an individual. Instead, they’re used to keep people safe, encourage reliability, and protect other employees.

If you think you need a criminal background check, look no further than ScoutLogic’s services. We help employers throughout each step of the screening process, removing any potential for hiring headaches.

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