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Do Background Check Errors Occur?

Errors Do Occur In Background Checks
Yes! Errors do occur in background checks. This should be no surprise given the fact that the information contained in a background check is created, compiled, filed, stored, retrieved, and reported by individuals who can make mistakes and computer systems that can fail to operate properly.
What types of errors occur in background checks?
Anywhere in the background check process errors such as the following can occur:
  • Wrong or incomplete data in original documents
  • Misreading handwriting
  • Typos such as number transposition
  • Copying, filing, and search mistakes
  • File corruption in computer systems
  • Identity theft

These types of errors can result in false information being reported or important facts not being reported in a background check.

What should employers do to reduce the risk of errors in a background check?
There are several things an employer should do to reduce the risk of errors in background checks:
  • Inspect the applicant's paperwork for completeness, legibility, and consistency before sending it to the background check vendor. This is the single MOST IMPORTANT thing an employer can do to reduce errors on background checks.
  • Use background checks as part of a thorough hiring process which includes quality interviews, professional reference checks, employment eligibility verification, and as appropriate drug testing, skill testing, and aptitude testing.
  • Conduct thorough background checks. The best background check is a comprehensive background check that gathers information from multiple sources. The employer should conduct a background check that independently verifies all information considered important to successful employment. See Comprehensive Detailed Background Checks.
    Note: Criminal database searches are notoriously incomplete and inaccurate and should only be used as a research aide. See Criminal Database Limitations.
  • Select a quality background check vendor. Only consider vendors who recommend thorough background checks and are members of the NAPBS® (National Association of Professional Background Screeners).
  • If the applicant/employee is to be denied employment or promotion, proceed with caution (seek legal advice prior to taking adverse action concerning specific legal responsibilities, and to ensure that any actions are in compliance with applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations). For example, under the FCRA, if employment or promotion will be denied due (in whole or in part) to a background check conducted by a third party the employer will need to take specific pre and post adverse actions. See Notice To Users Of Consumer Reports: Obligations Of Users Under The FCRA (California Employers see California Background Check Law and FCRA Employer Requirements for a combined summary of the FCRA and the CA ICRA.) Employers should provide the applicant/employee time to review/challenge the report.

What should an APPLICANT do if an error is found in a background check?
If an error is found in a background check report, the applicant should promptly inform the employer.
  • The Applicant needs to explain the error to the employer and provide the employer any documentation or information which may shed light on the issue.
  • The employer should re-investigate the error and report the results of the re-investigation to the applicant.
  • If the error is in the information at the source (school, prior-employer, courthouse, etc.) the applicant should promptly contact the information source directly and have the error corrected. After the information has been corrected at the source, the applicant should inform the employer and request a re-investigation of the information and a report of the results.
  • If the report was prepared by a third-party agency, the agency should have been contacted by the employer to conduct the re-investigation. The applicant may also contact the third-party agency directly to dispute an error.

What should an EMPLOYER do if an applicant reports an error in a background check?
If an applicant reports an error in a background check report, the employer should:
  • Obtain details from the applicant about the information in dispute (including any relevant documentation).
  • Re-investigate the disputed item. If a third-party agency conducted the background check, provide the agency with the details about the disputed information obtained from the applicant and request a re-investigation of the disputed information (the agency should not charge for the re-investigation).
  • If the re-investigation confirms the original report, the error may be at the record source (school, prior-employer, courthouse, etc.). Have the applicant contact the record source and request that the records be corrected. After the records have been corrected, the employer should again re-investigate the disputed information.
  • Keep the applicant informed and provide the results of the re-investigation to the applicant
Note: Many background check errors reported by applicants are in reality errors or fraud on the part of the applicant. Always verify applicant claims by re-investigating the disputed information with the original record source.

Related Resources

A Matter of Fact is not a law firm and cannot provide legal advice. The information and forms on this site are for educational purposes only and cannot be relied upon as legal advice. It is important that employers work with counsel to develop an employment screening program specific to their needs. Employers should obtain legal advice concerning their legal responsibilities, and to ensure that background check documents, policies and procedures are in compliance with applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations. For more see Legal Disclaimer.

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