How Far Back Does a Background Check Go? 8 Nov 2017


Best practice is to always get background checks for employment purposes. They help provide employers with critical information to make the right hiring decisions. One common question that employers and applicants have is how far back a background check goes.

A year? 10 years? The applicant’s entire life?

A background check time frame varies depending on many factors. Most SMBs, nonprofits, and volunteer organizations hire a reporting agency like Trusted Employees to conduct employment criminal background checks. This provides peace of mind that all local and federal legislation and restrictions are followed accurately so there are no violations.

Credit Report Considerations

Background checks for employment done by reporting agencies must follow strict Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) rules. For example, even if you’re located in a state that allows full credit checks for employment purposes, you still need to follow FCRA limits on what can be reported. Some of those limits include:

  • Bankruptcies cannot be reported after 10 years.
  • Tax liens cannot be reported seven years after payment.
  • Accounts in collection cannot be reported after seven years.
  • Civil suits and civil judgments cannot be reported after seven years.

There are many nuances to consider as well. One to be aware of is that these limits only apply to people who make less than $75,000 per year. Once you surpass that annual salary, the restrictions lift and employers can look back further at the details of your credit report.

Criminal History Considerations

Criminal history is an important section of any background check for employment. This provides information about whether an applicant has violated the law. Consider a 50-year-old applicant who is concerned about a conviction that happened when he was only 18. Will that show up on a report? Should it be considered?

FCRA time limits do not apply to criminal convictions, meaning they can be reported at any time and go back as far as the report can go. So depending where the applicant is applying, the employer very well could see that conviction from 32 years ago.

Should they consider something from that long ago? That is ultimately up to the hiring manager. Depending on the violation, the position’s responsibilities and the person’s credentials today, it may or may not matter. Ultimately it is the employer’s call as long as they follow fair hiring rules and regulations.

Keep in mind, there are a few states that do limit how far back an employer can look at criminal history. One such state is Texas, which regulates reporting of criminal conviction to seven years after disposition, release or parole, for those applicants who will make $75,000 a year or less. Once you make more, the regulation does not apply.

Permission to Run Reports

Remember, an employer must get the applicant’s permission to run a background check for employment purposes. FCRA requires that employers provide a notification and explanation to applicants. Once they consent, only then can they run the report. Make sure to learn more about the important steps you must take when running a legal background check so you get all the information you need while following restrictions.