Background Check Basics: 10 Key Terms

Karen Axelton
June 05, 2024
4 min read

Background check terminology may seem confusing, but it’s important to understand for compliant and informed screenings in your hiring process. Here are ten essential terms for employers to know.

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Background check terms explained

Background checks go by many names, such as employment screening, criminal record checks, consumer reports, and even Investigative Consumer Reports in California. At Checkr, a background check is the collection and verification of an individual’s information or records from private and public sources. 

A background check may consist of one or many screenings. Checkr offers multiple screening types, including criminal background checks, driving record checks, education and employment verification, credit history checks, and more. 

Ten essential terms to know

1. Consumer reporting agency (CRA)

An organization that gathers information about individuals to create reports that are shared with third parties. These reports are often used to determine an individual's eligibility for various purposes, such as credit, employment, insurance, and more. Employment screening providers, like Checkr, and credit bureaus, like Experian, are examples of CRAs. All CRAs must follow the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

2. Summary of Rights

A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” is a standard document that outlines the rights of individuals under the FCRA, which includes: 

  • The right to be informed that a background check will be performed
  • The right to give written consent before an employment screening is conducted through a background check company
  • The right to know what’s in their file
  • The right to dispute incomplete or inaccurate information
  • The right to see their credit score (if that’s part of the report)

The right to know whether information in the background screening has been used against them, such as in making an adverse employment decision (deciding not to hire, promote, or transfer).

3. Permissible purpose

An organization’s legitimate reason for which a background check can be ordered and obtained from a CRA. The FCRA sets outs specific permissible purposes, such as screening for employment, extending credit, or issuing insurance. Your organization’s permissible purpose may also impact which screenings you're allowed to order.

4. Credentialing

To comply with the FCRA, CRAs must confirm a business is legitimate and verify their stated permissible purpose to order background checks. This one-time process is credentialing and may require submission of supporting documentation. An on-site inspection is also required to conduct credit history checks

5. Pass-through fees

Some state and county courts charge a fee to retrieve criminal records, and all DMVs charge fees to retrieve driving records. CRAs include these surcharges when invoicing a customer for completed background check reports. (It’s important to note that Checkr does not mark up pass-through fees to customers.)

6. Alias

Any variation or alternative name an individual may use in addition to their legal name, such as nicknames, maiden names, or hyphenated names. When conducting background checks, searching with aliases can return a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of a candidate's history.

7. Disposition

The outcome or resolution of a criminal case, related to a specific offense, for example convicted, acquitted, vacated, deferred, suspended, or sometimes pending. A criminal background check will show a disposition, but employers should note any restrictions that may apply when reviewing a candidate’s criminal history. 

8. Dispute

Candidates have the right to file a dispute if they believe their background check contains inaccurate or outdated information. Instances may include records with incorrect details such as charge type or a case status that changed after the record was reported. 

The candidate should promptly notify the background check provider about the discrepancy and it can be helpful to provide any supporting documentation to substantiate their claims. The background check provider is obligated under the FCRA to reinvestigate the disputed information, and if incorrect, fix it and give the candidate and employer a copy of the updated background check report.

9. Adjudication

An employer’s evaluation and decision-making process when comparing background check results with their hiring policies to determine candidate's eligibility for a specific role. Background check providers may provide tools or workflows to help streamline adjudication and reduce bias. 

In relation to criminal cases, deferred adjudication means the court has postponed the final judgment on charges to provide the defendant with time to meet requirements such as drug or alcohol rehabilitation, community service, or probation.

10. Individualized assessment

If a criminal background check returns information that may impact someone’s eligibility, like a criminal record, an employer may conduct an individualized assessment to consider the circumstances and context of the conviction to assess its potential impact on a candidate's ability to perform a specific role. This is considered a best practice by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but is legally required in some jurisdictions like New York. This additional information can help employers make fairer, more job-related hiring decisions.

Checkr simplifies background screening

Although background check lingo can be complex, Checkr helps ‌simplify the screening process. Our platform provides easy-to-read reports, while built-in workflows help to support compliance with adverse action requirements, and adjudication tools also help speed review time and reduce potential hiring bias. 

The Checkr team is here to help, too. Contact our FCRA-trained support team for help with your account or visit our Help Center for detailed information about many background check questions.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

Karen Axelton writes about business topics and best practices. She has written hundreds of articles on business subjects, including background screening, hiring and employment trends, human resource management, and the use of technology in the workplace. Her work includes educational articles, e-books, white papers, and case studies.

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