What Is a Background Check?


Quick Answer

A background check is a targeted search, usually conducted by a potential employer, of certain aspects of a person's past, financial and legal records, with the express purpose of assuring that person does not expose the company or organization to significant risk. The detail and scope of a background check typically relate to the potential job involved and its associated sensitivities.

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Full Answer

Background checks can involve the examination of a wide array of documents and other sources, often ones already available through public records. These include, but are in no way limited to, drivers' records, vehicle registration, incarceration and arrest records, bankruptcy papers, credit reports, educational records, neighborhood interviews and sex offender lists. In a great many cases, prospective employers are obligated by state and or federal law to conduct background checks for new hirees, especially those dealing with children, the elderly or people with disabilities.

Another reason an organization conducts checks is to protect itself from the fallout of hiring unqualified or otherwise dangerous persons, something that may result in negligence lawsuits. According to a report issued by the Society for Human Resource Management, around two-thirds of all hiring organizations conduct background searches on potential employees. However, although things like a criminal past may ultimately influence an employer's decision to hire, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, some cases of discrimination towards applicants with criminal pasts are construed as violations of their civil rights, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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