Employment Background Check Company, A Matter of Fact Complete Employment Background Checks help you complete the picture
Home > > Background Check FAQ > > How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go?

How Far Back Do Employment
Background Checks Go?


How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go?
Employee Background Checks, How many years back do they go? Although this may appear to be a simple question, there is no simple answer. There are really several questions:
How far back in an applicant's history does an employer go to determine which records to check?
The most common employment background check requested by our clients is:
  • A current Social Security Number Scan
  • County Criminal Record Checks for counties in which an applicant lived, worked, and went to school during the last seven years
  • Employment Verifications for employers for which the applicant worked during the past seven years
  • Education Verifications for all post high school education

Notice that this only says what sources are checked. It says nothing about how far back the records go or what information is available to the employer. Due to their own policies or regulatory requirements, employers may search different records covering different periods of time. Also, these typical searches do not include the many other records that we suggest an employer check. For a summary of our suggestions on what should be in a detailed thorough background check, see Comprehensive Background Check: The Best Background Check.

How far back do sources keep their records?
Each of the record sources checked by an employer for a background check varies in how long records are kept (for example).
  • Social Security Record Scans, Credit Reports, License Checks, etc. are really current status checks. How old the information is in a current report varies by source.
  • A check of County Criminal Records will likely uncover any information the court makes available to the public. The information available depends on the rules of each court. Typically felony records are kept for a very long time while records of other offenses are purged after a few years.
  • Employment Verifications could uncover information as far back as an applicant was employed at a particular employer.
  • Education Verifications are a good example of credential checks. The applicant claims a credential on a current resume or job application. The employer then asks the educational institution to check records as far back as is necessary to verify the applicant's claims. Since most educational institutions keep records indefinitely, how far back depends on the age of the claimed credential.

How far back are records searched?
This question really only applies to a few records. Most records are stored by individual. The record source attempts to keep all information about a specific person together. Information is sorted together by name, date-of-birth, social security number, membership number, etc. For most records, a search of the records will find any information kept by the record source. However, there are two exceptions to this:
  • Records that do not match because of errors or fraud in the identification information (for example, records for the same person may not be listed together because of different name spellings).
  • A few records sources keep AND index their records by date.
It is difficult to say how far back records will be searched if records can be missed because of incomplete or incorrect identifiers. Also, if records are filed and indexed by date and the database is large, how far back the background check goes will depend on the time and money invested in searching the records.

How old can information be that is passed on to an employer?
The FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act), which is the primary federal law regulating background screening, limits the information a third party such as a credit bureau or a background check firm can pass on to an employer. Section 605 of the FCRA prohibits a background screening company from reporting the following:
  • Bankruptcy cases that antedate the report by more than 10 years.
  • Paid tax liens that antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Accounts placed for collection or charged to profit and loss that antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Civil suits and civil judgments that antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Any arrest record older than seven years.
  • Any other adverse information, other than records of convictions, which antedate the report by more than seven years.
Note: For employees reasonably expected to earn $75,000 or more per year, the above time limits do not apply.
For more about the FCRA, see FCRA/FACTA - Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Many states have regulations that are more restrictive than the federal law. For example, California law has the following limitations:
  • Bankruptcies that, from the date of adjudication, antedate the report by more than 10 years.
  • Suits that, from the date of filing, and satisfied judgments that, from the date of entry, antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Unsatisfied judgments that, from the date of entry, antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Unlawful detainer actions where the defendant was the prevailing party or where the action is resolved by settlement agreement.
  • Paid tax liens that, from the date of payment, antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Accounts placed for collection or charged to profit and loss that antedate the report by more than seven years.
  • Records of arrest, indictment, information, misdemeanor complaint, or conviction of a crime that, from the date of disposition, release, or parole, antedate the report by more than seven years. These items of information are no longer reported if at any time it is learned that, in the case of a conviction, a full pardon has been granted or, in the case of an arrest, indictment, information, or misdemeanor complaint, a conviction did not result; except that records of arrest, indictment, information, or misdemeanor complaints may be reported pending pronouncement of judgment on the particular subject matter of those records.
  • Any other adverse information that antedates the report by more than seven years.
For more information about state background check laws, see State and Local Background Check Laws and Regulations.

How old can the information be that an employer uses?
The final question relates to what an employer does with the information that it receives. The most important question is what information should an employer use? Only information that is related to the specific job requirements and is from a relevant time period should be used in judging an applicant’s qualifications for a position. As a culture we hold that a person who has made a mistake should be given a chance if the individual has changed. Of course this depends greatly on the position the applicant is seeking. Note: If an applicant lies about old information, that lie is a CURRENT problem. Next, various federal and state laws and regulations limit the use of some information an employer may obtain in a background check based on how old the information is. For example, the EEOC provides guidelines to employers on how to use criminal conviction information under Title VII (see Background Check Laws: EEOC Guidance On Use Of Criminal Records). Also see State and Local Background Check Laws and Regulations.

Return to Background Check FAQ.

Related Resources



Ready to Go?

Use our Start-Up Kit for a
step-by-step approach to
getting started

Account Setup is Free