Criminal records are routinely included in background screening reports that employers receive on prospective employees as well as on reports that are requested on existing employees. However, before an employer has a background company run a report on you, they you must first obtain your permission to have the report run. This release is generally contained in something they require you to sign to be considered for employment, and may also be required to sign as a condition of employment. See Section 604(b) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act – Conditions for Furnishing and Using Consumer Reports for Employment Purposes.
Once the employer has your written permission to run background checks on you, the background screening company they use will generally check criminal and public records on you for the counties you have resided in the last 7 years and possibly also check statewide and nationwide criminal records.
The criminal check by the screening firm may be obtained from one or more of the online databases that contain such information, or the background screening firm may actually go directly to the county court offices and manually check your name for criminal and public records.
In the case of automated online databases that contain criminal records, the database may return records for your name based on your exact name or variations of your name. The search may be fine-tuned by including your date of birth. In any case online databases oftentimes return false positives or incomplete information that may require the background screening company to exercise additional care to make sure the court record belongs to you and its status is up to date.
If criminal or public records are found on you, before a company can take adverse action against you based on the screening report, you have a right to get a copy of the screening report, as well as a right to dispute items in the report that are not accurate.
The law covering the reporting of criminal and public records in a background screening report is primarily the Fair Credit reporting Act. Here’s a copy of the Act.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been the government agency responsible for enforcement of the Fair Credit Reporting Act as it relates to background screening companies. For example, in August 2012, the FTC levied fines on a background checking firm of $2.6 million dollars for not complying with the FCRA. Specifically the background screening company failed to use reasonable care to provide an accurate report, failed to give the consumer job applicants copies of their reports, and failed to investigate disputed items in the report. For more information on this, follow this link: http://ftc.gov/opa/2012/08/hireright.shtm