Ariel Frogge

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

Understand the scope and limitations of background checks regarding the timeframe of past records.

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

Background checks are essential to pre-employment vetting, and the "lookback period" length is a common concern for employers and job seekers. Surprisingly, no federal laws limit how far back an employer can look into a candidate's history, nor does the Fair Credit Reporting Act cover criminal records. However, the answer to how far back a background check can go depends on the type of investigation and the location of the parties involved.

Different types of background checks can vary in how much candidate history can be searched legally and used compliantly. Local ban-the-box laws can also affect businesses and candidates. The regulations in certain states and cities may impact how far back an employer can look into a candidate's history, and it's essential to consider the type of screening that is most appropriate for the nature of the position. Therefore, it's crucial to understand the areas that may affect the length of history checks on a candidate's background, including criminal record checks, employment credit checks, and driving record checks.

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The Different Types Of Background Checks And Their Look Back Period

Regarding pre-employment background checks, the type of records being searched is the primary factor determining how far back the vetting process can go. Since state laws differ widely, employers must seek legal counsel or review local regulations before beginning any screening process. Reliable background information providers, such as, keep track of these laws and any changes, making them valuable partners in helping employers establish legally compliant policies for specific regions.

To provide a general idea of the typical length restrictions related to various types of background checks, here is an overview:

Pre-employment Background Checks:

Employers often conduct pre-employment background checks covering seven years, including a criminal and court records search. However, the "lookback period" can extend beyond seven years, depending on the type of search and federal or state laws. For employment-related criminal checks, seven years is the most common lookback period across jurisdictions, although some states may allow an entire decade or have no time restrictions. Nonetheless, these laws may have nuanced differences, such as varying lookback periods based on an individual's conviction status or completion of their jail term.

Level 2 Background Check:

The definition of a "Level 2 check" lacks a consistent meaning. Some report providers may utilize terms like "Level 1" and "Level 2" to differentiate between various tiers of investigation service packages. However, the state has legally established distinct categories of Level 1 and Level 2 background checks in Florida.

A Level 1 background check is a less comprehensive search. It may include Florida-only name-based criminal records, employment history verification screening, local county criminal searches, or sex offender registry checks. On the other hand, a Level 2 assessment is a more detailed investigation that involves fingerprint-based searches of Florida Department of Law Enforcement records and national FBI databases, as well as local criminal record searches conducted with county courthouses or law enforcement agencies.

Regarding the length of the background check lookback period, Florida has no laws restricting the extent of the criminal conviction history that an employer can consider during the hiring process, even for Level 2 background checks. Nevertheless, the state complies with national laws, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act's "seven-year rule," which requires that arrests not be included on any background check over seven years old.

Credit Checks:

Employment credit checks are commonly used by employers and typically look back at least seven years. The length of the lookback period may vary depending on the candidate's salary and state laws. Certain states allow a decade-long lookback period for jobs with high salaries or significant financial responsibilities.

However, there has been a growing pushback against using credit history in employment decisions in recent years, leading to legislative movements in several states and localities to ban or restrict pre-employment credit checks.

Employers in these areas should ensure compliance with all requirements before including credit history screenings in their hiring process.

Driving Record Checks:

The length of the lookback period for driving record checks varies widely from state to state, with some states allowing records to go back as little as three years, while others permit up to ten years of history to be searched.

Criminal Misdemeanors, Criminal Felonies, and Minor Infractions:

The severity of a criminal offense can impact the duration of the lookback period in certain jurisdictions. For example, in some states, employers can access information about felony convictions without any time limitations, while others limit it to seven or ten years. Reporting timeframes for misdemeanors may vary based on state and local regulations, ranging from indefinite reporting to restrictions of three, five, or seven years based on the candidate's location. In some states, felony convictions may be reported indefinitely, while others restrict it to seven years, depending on the candidate's residence or employment location.

Educational History:

Verifying educational history in a background check can be essential in assessing a candidate's qualifications and credibility. Education verification typically involves contacting schools or educational institutions to confirm a candidate's degrees, certifications, and dates of attendance.

Unlike criminal or employment history, there are generally no legal restrictions on how far back educational history can be verified. This means that educational history can be verified throughout a candidate's lifetime, regardless of when the education was obtained. However, some background check providers may limit the verification of educational history to the most recent seven years.

It is important to note that educational verification can be time-consuming, particularly for candidates who attended schools that have since closed or merged with other institutions. In such cases, contacting the relevant accreditation agencies or using alternative means of verifying the candidate's education, such as requesting copies of transcripts or diplomas, may be necessary.

It is also worth noting that while educational verification can provide valuable information about a candidate's qualifications, it should not be the sole factor in the hiring decision. Other factors such as work experience, skills, and references should also be considered.

Professional License Verification Checks:

Professional license verification is essential to many background checks, particularly for individuals applying for jobs in regulated industries such as healthcare or finance. Like educational history, professional license verification may be verified throughout a candidate's lifetime, although some background check providers may limit their search to the past seven years.

Professional license verification typically involves verifying that a candidate has a valid license to practice in their field and that the license is in good standing. This may include verifying the license number, issue, expiration dates, and any disciplinary actions or restrictions on the permit.

The specific lookback period for professional license verification may vary depending on the industry and state regulations. For example, in healthcare, license verification may be required for every state where the individual has held a license or certification. Some states may also require additional verification steps, such as checking the National Practitioner Data Bank or state-specific databases for malpractice claims or disciplinary actions.

Employers need to ensure that their background check provider is thorough in their verification process for professional licenses, as hiring individuals with expired or revoked licenses can lead to legal and financial consequences.


Rules & Restrictions For Background Checks

To ensure compliance when using background checks in hiring decisions, employers must follow federal regulations and adhere to local laws. The rules and regulations for different types of background checks will vary depending on the location of the candidates and the business. While we have covered the general rules for background screening lookback periods, employers must also be aware of specific regulations that apply to them.

These regulations usually fall into two categories: FCRA requirements and state regulations. FCRA requirements apply to all employers nationwide, including provisions such as the seven-year rule for criminal background checks. On the other hand, state regulations vary significantly from one part of the country to another. They can cover ban-the-box laws, credit check restrictions, and specific reporting requirements for criminal records or driving history.

To ensure compliance with these regulations, employers should work with experienced background check providers who can guide them through the complex legal landscape and help them design screening programs that meet their unique needs while complying with all applicable laws and regulations.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) Regulations

Pre-employment background checks are subject to federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) regulations. Employers must obtain written consent from the candidate before conducting a background check, and candidates are entitled to respond to any adverse findings that may affect their chances of being hired or promoted.

The FCRA also imposes restrictions on the depth of a candidate’s history that can be searched during a background check. Certain information, such as bankruptcies older than ten years, civil suits or judgments older than seven years, and records of arrest or tax liens older than seven years, cannot be reported by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs), which include third-party background check providers and national credit bureaus. Collections accounts and other adverse information (excluding criminal convictions) older than seven years also cannot be reported.

However, the FCRA permits CRAs to report arrests for up to 7 years, including cases where charges are dismissed. Court proceedings that did not lead to conviction can also be reported for up to 7 years. These non-convictions may include instances where charges are dismissed before trial, the trial results in a verdict of not guilty, or when an individual qualifies for dismissal of charges upon completing a diversionary program.

Employers must also be aware of state regulations that vary significantly across jurisdictions. While the FCRA applies to all employers nationwide, specific state regulations may impose additional requirements or limitations on background checks.

It is important to note that background screening companies cannot include bankruptcy cases in their reports if they are older than ten years. Despite the decade-long lookback period, the FCRA's most well-known limitation is the seven-year lookback rule, which applies to adverse information that can be reported.

The Seven-Year Look-Back Rule

According to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), background checks can’t include certain adverse information older than seven years. This has paid tax liens, accounts in collections, civil suits or related judgments, and arrest records. This seven-year lookback period is the most common nationwide since the FCRA is a federal law that applies to all employers. Therefore, employers must comply with this rule when conducting pre-employment background checks.

Criminal History and the FCRA

The FCRA has guidelines on how long certain types of adverse information can be reported on a background check, but it does not explicitly limit the reporting of criminal convictions. This means that misdemeanors and felonies can be reported on a background check if they are still on an individual's criminal record. However, some states and cities have laws limiting how far back employers can look into a candidate's criminal history, which may include convictions that have been expunged or sealed. Employers must know these state and local regulations to ensure compliance with all applicable laws.

State Regulations For Background Check

Although the FCRA doesn't impose any restrictions on the lookback periods for criminal histories, there are other regulations that employers need to consider. Many states have their laws regarding how far back criminal information can be reported on background checks.

Some states prohibit background check providers from reporting any criminal information, including convictions, over seven years old at the time of the check. Employers must be aware of these state-specific laws and comply with them when conducting background checks.

Below are some examples of states that have laws in place limiting the lookback periods for criminal background checks:

Criminal convictions can only be reported for seven years.

Felony convictions can only be reported for seven years; misdemeanor convictions can only be reported for five years.

Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $20,000 or over.

Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $20,000 or over.

Criminal convictions can only be reported for seven years.

Criminal convictions can only be reported for seven years.

New Hampshire
Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $20,000 or over.

New Mexico
Criminal convictions can only be reported for seven years.

New York
Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $75,000 or over.

Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $20,000 or over.

Employers cannot consider any criminal history more than seven years old unless the annual salary of the job in question is $20,000 or over.

Run A Free & Quick Background Check With PeopleWhiz!

Navigating the variety of available background checks and the limits on how far back they can search can be daunting for HR teams and hiring managers, primarily when recruiting across multiple jurisdictions. To ease the burden and ensure compliance with federal, state, and municipal laws governing background reporting, partnering with an FCRA-compliant service provider like PeopleWhiz is highly recommended.

With PeopleWhiz, you can run fast and reliable background checks with features designed to simplify compliance with relevant regulations. Whether you need to run criminal history checks, verify employment or educational histories, or confirm professional licenses, PeopleWhiz has hundreds of screening options to help you make informed hiring decisions.

What's more, PeopleWhiz also offers a free, fast background check tool that allows you to quickly search for basic information on individuals, such as their contact details and criminal records, without needing to sign up for an account.

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