6 common misconceptions about employment background checks
Myth #1: Employers are only looking to see if your resume is accurate
In Reality: When an employer runs a background check, they may be looking for salary history, criminal activity, credit scores, professional licenses or designations, drug use, or professional and personal references.
Myth #2: You can lie about how much you made at previous jobs
In Reality: While there are plenty of creative ways on an interview to evade disclosing your salary history, a prospective employer can ask your former employer or request copies of your W-2 forms.
Myth #3: Employers simply call the references you provide
In Reality: An employer may choose to conduct their own background check or to use an agency. Background investigation companies often work with other agencies that pull criminal histories, check applicant credit, perform drug testing, and collect fingerprints.
Myth #4: Anything you've ever done is going to show up in a background check
In Reality: Consumer reporting agencies must follow the standards established by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and cannot report tax liens, collections, and civil suits after seven years or bankruptcies after 10 years, but time limits for reporting negative information do not apply for jobs paying over $75,000.
Juvenile criminal convictions cannot be reported. Adult criminal convictions can be reported at any time (although some states impose their own limits).
Background investigation companies also have their own information collection and reporting policies - they may set their own limits for how far back into an applicant's history they will look, they may not report low-level misdemeanors at all, and they will almost always require derogatory claims in writing - for instance, if a previous employer says they wouldn't re-hire you, the agency would request that as a written statement as opposed to just accepting the information as part of a phone call.
If the employer is conducting their own background investigation, they may not check out-of-state criminal records or run detailed credit reports - but they might be more likely to get an off-the-record negative reference from a former employer.
Myth #5: A negative finding automatically means you won't get the job
In Reality: Just because something unfavorable shows up in a background check doesn't mean you won't get hired. The truth is that most people leave at least one job on bad terms at some point in their career. And state laws determine how information discovered during a background check can be used - for example, under Pennsylvania law, an employer can only make hiring decisions based on an applicant's criminal record if the convictions relate to the person's suitability for the position.
Myth #6: As a job seeker, you're powerless
In Reality: An employer must receive your written permission to conduct a background check before even beginning the process. If they choose not to hire you based on findings in a background check, they have to provide you with the report along with contact info for the consumer-reporting agency. If there's anything inaccurate on the report, you should immediately contact the agency and ask them to correct it.
Regardless of whether the employer conducts an in-house or external background check, job seekers still cannot be denied a position for any reason that falls under certain protected classes. In Pennsylvania, these include race, color, sex, age (over 40), ancestry, national origin, religious creed, having a GED rather than a high school diploma, handicap or disability, or relationship to a person with a disability. If you have been a victim of employment discrimination, you have the right to file an employment discrimination complaint.