Guide to DUIs on Background Checks

Danielle Hubein
December 18, 2023
5 min read

Conducting background checks during the hiring process can help employers better determine a candidate's qualifications for the role. For positions where driving is a job requirement, it may be important to understand how a DUI conviction may be revealed by a driving record background check and how DUIs may affect the hiring process.

In some industries, such as healthcare, education, law, financial services, and transportation, background checks may be required by law. Even when they are not legally required, background checks can help you maintain a safe work environment, especially in safety-sensitive roles or high-trust positions. If you’re hiring for a driving-related position, searching for a DUI on a candidate’s background check, sometimes called a DUI background check, may be especially important.

When a background check reveals unexpected information, such as a DUI conviction, you may be unsure how to proceed. Keep reading to learn more about DUIs on a background check and how to make fair, informed, and compliant hiring decisions.

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Does a DUI show up on a background check?

If a person has been convicted of a DUI, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the conviction will usually appear on a criminal background check as most jurisdictions consider a DUI to be a criminal offense. If the case was dismissed or is still pending, background checks may reveal a DUI arrest though some states prohibit or limit the disclosure of this information.

Additionally, states may use different terms for DUIs, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI) or operating under the influence (OUI), but these are generally synonyms for DUIs, not separate categories.

In certain states, for example, in New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin, DUIs can appear as traffic offenses and therefore may be revealed by a candidate’s motor vehicle record, or MVR background check. In these or similar states, subsequent offenses or aggravating factors may result in a misdemeanor or felony charge, which would usually appear on a criminal background check.

Misdemeanor DUI vs Felony DUI

Criminal convictions typically fall into three categories: misdemeanors, felonies, and infractions. In the case of a DUI that’s not a traffic offense, an individual may be convicted of a misdemeanor DUI or a felony DUI, depending on the charge.

A misdemeanor charge generally results in less severe penalties than a felony and usually carries a maximum sentence of one year, with or without other penalties such as fines or probation. First-time DUI charges may result in a misdemeanor conviction, although circumstances such as the death or serious injury of another person can enhance the charge. A person who has previous convictions may receive stricter fines and/or a longer sentence for a repeat offense.

Will a misdemeanor DUI affect employment? A misdemeanor DUI and employment are not necessarily mutually exclusive. An employer may decide to withdraw a job offer for a driving-related position if the candidate’s background check uncovers a DUI conviction. However, the employer’s hiring decision will depend on the company’s background check policy, as well as federal and state laws and industry regulations.

A felony conviction for a DUI generally results in more severe penalties than a misdemeanor conviction. After a felony DUI conviction, an individual could face a substantial sentence and license suspension as well as a large fine. States use different factors to determine whether a DUI charge will be brought as a felony.

How long does a DUI stay on a criminal record?

In most cases, a DUI will stay on a person’s criminal record indefinitely unless the individual is eligible and gets the conviction removed through expungement. In some states, misdemeanors may be expunged, while felonies may not. In other states, expungement is not available at all for DUIs; while in other states, DUIs may be expunged after a certain waiting period.

How long does a DUI stay on your background check? Regardless of the DUI criminal record, a person’s driving record is separate from their criminal record. Although it may vary from one state to another, driving records sometimes transfer between states. Therefore, a DUI may appear on an MVR anywhere from five to 10 years (or even for life in some states), depending on where the person lives.

Because laws concerning the disclosure of criminal offenses vary by state, if you’re relying on a MVR background check for information about a candidate’s driving record, it’s important to understand how your jurisdiction’s rules impact the type of information the MVR background check will reveal.

How DUIs affect the hiring process

If a DUI conviction is revealed during a background check, several considerations can help you determine next steps, make impartial hiring decisions, and maintain compliance with employment laws. First, review your company’s adjudication matrix and background check policy, which may provide guidance on how to adjudicate specific types of criminal convictions and handle challenging hiring decisions. Also, consider using the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) nature-time-nature test, which encourages employers to consider the nature of an offense, such as a DUI conviction, when the offense occurred, and the nature of the position and how it relates to the other two factors to better assess the candidate’s eligibility for the role.

Finally, consult with your legal team to ensure compliance with applicable employment laws and industry regulations. For example, in some states, a DUI conviction may disqualify an individual from receiving a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for a period of time after the conviction. Additionally, some state licensing boards may remove or restrict a professional license if a candidate has a criminal conviction. Always consider verifying that your candidate is legally authorized to perform the job responsibilities for the position they’re applying for.

Most importantly, employers should be careful to comply with applicable federal, state, and local regulations, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Ban the Box laws.

Under the FCRA, employers must follow a certain process when information revealed in a background check may impact their hiring decision. This includes:

  • Sending a pre-adverse action notice with a summary of rights included
  • Allowing a reasonable time (usually five to 10 days) to allow the candidate time to respond to your decision and/or dispute any information in the background check
  • Send a final adverse action notice to inform the candidate of your decision. notice to inform the candidate of your decision. This should include the background check company’s contact information for the candidate.

For commercial driving positions, employers may be required to conduct annual queries through the Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse before permitting drivers to operate commercial vehicles. Full queries, which may be required before hiring a new commercial driver, can reveal detailed information about any drug and/or alcohol violations committed by the candidate. After a driver is employed, if employers become aware of violations through their own drug and alcohol testing, they may be required to report the driver to the Clearinghouse.

Ban the Box laws may also impact when employers are permitted to ask about a candidate's criminal history, including DUIs, or run a criminal background check during the hiring or onboarding process. Employers should consult with their legal team to ensure compliance as these laws can vary by state, county, and city.

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When a background check returns a DUI conviction, maintaining compliance with complex and constantly changing regulations can be challenging. Checkr’s modern technology helps enable compliance and reduce bias with built-in compliance tools to help you navigate regulatory requirements and mitigate risk. Our workflows are designed to eliminate inefficiencies so you can make fair, fast, and confident hiring decisions.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Compliance Manager, Danielle analyzes the ever-changing laws and regulations affecting background screening to ensure that Checkr and its customers stay compliant. She also writes content to educate employers about background checks, screening best practices, and fair hiring laws. 

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