Federal or Multi-State Background Checks — Which Do You Need? 14 Oct 2019


You run a successful business that your employees and clients trust. How can you maintain this level of trust? In part, by running pre-employment background checks. Some companies have overlooked this step only to end up hiring employees that later committed crimes while on the job. These companies ended up losing the trust and business of their clients.

If they had taken the steps to screen their employees, they could have made better hiring decisions. When you neglect your screening process, risky candidates will slip through. But, you can protect your business from unsafe hires by getting the right screening reports.

However, you may wonder, “What are the right reports?” After all, different background checks may seem to overlap or even be the same. For instance, you may be confused by federal and multi-state criminal checks. Do these reports uncover the same information?

Let’s discover the difference between a federal and a multi-state background check. Then, we’ll discuss how you can decide which of these checks to run.

Federal Criminal Checks Uncover Problems Other Screening Reports Don’t

A federal check discovers crimes committed on federal land or under the jurisdiction of federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and ATF. Federal criminal checks also reveal crimes that cross state borders.

A federal criminal check uses the PACER, or Public Access to Electronic Court Records, database to find crimes that other background checks won’t.

These crimes include:

  • Arson
  • Counterfeiting
  • Drug possession with intent to distribute
  • Embezzlement
  • Illegal possession of firearms
  • Kidnapping
  • Other felony convictions

A federal check displays each applicant’s criminal records, giving you the information you need to find the right hire.

When do you need to use a federal criminal background check? Federal criminal checks are useful for jobs involving vulnerable people, sensitive information, or valuable assets. Certain positions may even legally require a federal check.

Skipping required background checks can land you in huge legal trouble. Citigroup, a global bank, didn’t run adequate checks on more than 10,000 job applicants. What was the result? Citigroup hired three convicted criminals, and the bank was fined $1.25 million for violating federal law.

Checking federal criminal records uncovers a candidate’s past. Knowing your applicant’s criminal history helps you decide who’s safe for the job. While federal criminal checks reveal major crimes, they don’t expose every offense. Multi-state criminal checks can fill in the gaps.

Multi-State Checks Unveil Crimes You Need to Investigate Further

A multi-state background check combs through various states’ criminal databases. Each database includes records from multiple counties in the state, making multi-state checks a convenient starting place for your process.

Multi-state criminal checks give you an overview of an applicant’s possible criminal record. It also uncovers whether applicants have lived or worked in more places then they’ve listed.

Multi-state checks show crimes that aren’t prosecuted at the federal level. These may include:

  • Assault
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Homicide
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault
  • Vandalism
  • Other misdemeanors and felonies prosecuted at the county level

A multi-state criminal check uncovers crimes in counties your applicant may not have disclosed. Multi-state checks pinpoint specific counties where you’ll want to run further background checks.

When do you need to use a multi-state criminal check? Multi-state checks are perfect if you don’t know which county checks to run. Multi-state criminal checks reveal issues your process should investigate further. It also shows things that may disqualify people from the job.

For example, the University of Alabama saved itself from a bad hire. When the football team interviewed a candidate for a coaching job, the college decided not to hire him after issues arose on the background check. The same candidate was later fired from a different coaching job due to his criminal past.

A multi-state check shows weak spots in an applicant’s history. Federal and multi-state checks deal with different areas of a candidate’s criminal past. However, knowing the difference between a federal and multi-state check doesn’t always help you decide which you need. How do you know which criminal check to include in your hiring process?

A hiring professional reviewing electronic background check results on their laptop

Federal or Multi-State: Which Is Right for Your Business?

You need the right reports for your screening process. How can you figure out the best background check for your business? Answering some questions about your hiring process and company can make things clear:

  • What do the job duties include? For positions that involve vital data or vulnerable people, you should use both types of criminal checks.
  • What other background checks are you using? If you’re not sure which county checks to use on a candidate, add a multi-state check.
  • What are your industry’s screening standards? The best practices in your field can help you decide what’s best for your business.
  • What are your state’s laws? Certain states require specific background checks for your industry.
  • Still can’t decide? Try both. Most businesses use both kinds of criminal checks to get the full picture of their applicant’s criminal history.

The answers to these questions show you where the gaps in your hiring process are. Combining federal and multi-state criminal checks gives you the information you need to make the right hire.

Do Your Background Checks Cover Everything?

Some companies have skipped the background check process. What were the consequences? They made the wrong hires and put their employees and clients in danger. Using the right screening reports stops risky hires from damaging your business. Are federal or multi-state checks right for you?

Federal checks reveal felonies, crimes that cross state lines, and crimes monitored by federal agencies. Federal criminal checks are legally required for certain jobs. Multi-state checks go through multiple states’ criminal databases. Multi-state checks help identify the places where you should run additional county searches. When combined, federal and multi-state checks give you the full picture of your applicant’s criminal past.

Don’t make a serious hiring mistake. Federal and multi-state criminal checks can close the gaps in your hiring process and stop bad hires from slipping through.