What Employers Can Ask When Checking Your Background
What can employers ask about you when they check your background prior to offering you a job, or as a condition of employment?
You may be surprised by how much information employers can learn about you. However, there are also some things an employer definitely cannot ask you.
There are no federal guidelines limiting the questions employers can ask. Therefore, what a prospective employer can ask depends on the laws in your state.
Just because a question is asked, and it is legal, does not mean your former employer has to answer it. However, keep in mind that there is information that is publicly available that can also be checked.
Read below for more information on what employers can legally ask about you, how former employers (and other references) can answer, and how you can prepare for a background check.
Why Do Employers Conduct Background Checks?
Why do employers want to know so much about you? Employers are more cautious than ever when bringing in new staff. They often conduct pre-employment background checks to make sure that there are no surprises waiting after they make a hire. It's much easier not to hire someone than it is to have to terminate them if a problem arises after they have been hired.
How much information is checked depends on the employer's hiring policy and the type of job for which you're being considered. Some companies don't check applicants' backgrounds at all, while others scrutinize applicants very carefully.
What Do Employers Want to Know?
What does a prospective employer want to know about you? In some cases, companies will simply verify basic information, such as places and dates of employment. In other cases, the company will ask for more information, which your previous employer and other sources may, or may not, disclose.
Here are some of the issues that employers might inquire about when checking on your background, along with information about what is illegal in some states, and what is less commonly asked:
- Dates of employment
- Educational degrees and dates
- Job title
- Job description
- Why the employee left the job
- Whether the employee was terminated for cause
- Whether there were any issues with the employee regarding absenteeism or tardiness
- Whether the employee is eligible for rehire
- Salary (many employers will not share this information; in fact, it is not legal to ask in some locations)
- Performance issues and problems (most employers will decline to share this information for fear of lawsuits for defamation)
- Legal or ethical transgressions (some employers will not share this information for the same reasons mentioned above)
- Credit history (depending on the job)
- Criminal history (depending on the job)
- Motor vehicle records (depending on the job)
How Can Employers Answer?
Keep in mind that, even if an employer asks for the background information listed above, and it is legal, the former employer does not have to answer.
Many companies limit what they will disclose about former employees. Sometimes this is for fear of lawsuits for defamation. Other organizations may not release information due to internal privacy policies.
In fact, many companies limit staff to simply sharing dates of employment and job titles when inquiries are made about former employees.
If you have concerns about what a current or former employer might share with a future employer about you, you can be proactive. During an exit interview (if you have one), ask what the company policy is regarding information they release to employers. If you have already left the company, call human resources and ask.
Some states have enacted limitations on what employers can say about you. Check with your state labor office for more information on what former employers can legally share with others.
Third Party Background Checks
In addition, when employers conduct a check of your background (credit, criminal, past employer) using a third party, the background check is covered by The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA is a federal act that seeks to promote fair and accurate private background checks. The act shapes what employers can ask for, receive, and use when conducting a background check through a third party.