How Background Checks Work?

How Background Checks Work?

Background checks are essential tools for organizations to make informed decisions about hiring, ensuring workplace safety, and meeting regulatory compliance. This FAQ article explains how background checks work, including the steps involved, timelines, and how to use a completed report.

Understanding the Background Check Process

Step 1: Initiating the Check

  • The process starts with a client’s request for a background check, typically through an interface provided by the background screening company.

Step 2: Applicant Information Submission

  • The applicant may need to submit their personal information, possibly through an electronic Applicant Management Center (eAMC), ensuring accuracy and confidentiality.

Step 3: Processing and Review

  • Once the information is submitted, the background check is processed. This includes instant searches for items like identity verification.

Step 4: In-Depth Research

  • The depth of the background check (e.g., 1-year to 10-year criminal history) is determined based on the client’s needs. This includes researching the applicant’s history across various jurisdictions and possibly international locations​​.

Step 5: Court Record Searches

  • The process may involve searching court records. The efficiency of this step depends on the accessibility and digital capabilities of the courts involved. Some courts provide direct electronic access, while others require manual searches​​.

Step 6: Nationwide Database Limitations

  • Unlike popular belief, there isn’t a comprehensive nationwide criminal background database. Background checks involve searching through various local, state, and federal databases, which may not always be fully up-to-date or complete​​.

Step 7: Verification of Records

  • Any criminal records found must be verified at the local court level to ensure accuracy and compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)​​.

Timeline for Background Checks

  • The average turnaround time for most background checks is 24-48 hours. However, this can vary significantly depending on the depth of the check, court access, and whether international locations are involved​​.

Using a Completed Background Check Report

Retention of Reports

  • While the FCRA doesn’t specify a retention period for background check reports, it’s recommended that employers retain these reports for a significant duration due to potential legal actions. Typically, reports for hired employees are kept for three years from the date of employment or termination, and for non-hired applicants, six years from the no-hire decision is standard​​.

Utilizing the Report

  • Employers should use the completed report to make informed hiring decisions. It’s essential to ensure that the use of background check information complies with employment laws and doesn’t lead to discriminatory practices.

Confidentiality and Compliance

  • All information obtained through background checks must be kept confidential and used in compliance with relevant laws, including the FCRA and Equal Employment Opportunity regulations.


Background checks are a multi-step process that requires careful handling and interpretation. Employers must understand the intricacies involved in how background checks work, including the potential limitations of databases, the importance of accurate and thorough checks, and the legal implications of using the information obtained. By doing so, organizations can make safer, more informed hiring decisions while remaining compliant with legal standards.

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