Feds offer tips on employment background checks

Hiring decisions are among the most important choices for any employer, but the process can be complex. 

When making personnel decisions — including hiring, retention, promotion, and reassignment — employers oftentimes want to consider the backgrounds of applicants and employees. For example, some employers might try to find out about the person’s work history, education, criminal record, financial history, medical history, or use of social media.

Except for certain restrictions related to medical and genetic information, it’s not illegal for an employer to ask questions about an applicant’s or employee’s background, or to require a background check.

Now, for the first time, the Federal Trade Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have co-published two short guides on employment background checks that explain the rights and responsibilities of the people on both sides of the desk.

The FTC and the EEOC want employers to know that they need written permission from job applicants before getting background reports about them from a company in the business of compiling background information.

Employers also should know that it’s illegal to discriminate based on a person’s race, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or age (40 or older) when requesting or using background information for employment.

At the same time, the agencies want job applicants to know that it’s not illegal for potential employers to ask someone about their background as long as the employer does not unlawfully discriminate. Job applicants also should know that if they’ve been turned down for a job or denied a promotion based on information in a background report, they have a right to review the report for accuracy.

 “The FTC is pleased to work with the EEOC to help ensure that employers and potential employees have a solid understanding of their rights and responsibilities,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The FTC enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law that protects the privacy and accuracy of the information in credit reports. The EEOC enforces laws against employment discrimination.

About the Author


Will Temby

Will has enjoyed a 20-year career in leadership positions in the hospitality and travel industry throughout the U.S. with the Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, Renaissance and Steamboat Ski and Resort corporations. Will received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. From 2000-2007, he served as President and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. He also served as Vice President-Special Projects for the University of Colorado Foundation from 2007 to 2009. Will is a past Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Homeland Defense Foundation and former member of the United States Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. He is married to Nan, has five wonderful children, and enjoys coaching, traveling, hiking, golfing and skiing.