Background check basics

Everything you need to know to get started with understanding and running background checks.

Checkr’s AI-powered platform scales your hiring with fair screenings that are faster and more accurate. Checkr’s award-winning background check platform allows companies of all sizes to run background checks easily and quickly while also maintaining compliance and accuracy.

What is a background check?

A background check is the collection and verification of an individual’s information or records from private and public sources.

What is background check for employment useful for? It provides an opportunity for a business to check a person’s:

  • Criminal record
  • Education
  • Employment history
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Credit history
  • And more

Background checks are intended to create a safe and profitable environment: whether applying for a job, looking for a new apartment, or renting a car, you may have to undergo a background check.

A candidate’s rights are considered and protected by applicable federal, state, and local regulations.

What is a background check useful for?

Background checks benefit both the consumer (the subject of the background report) and end user (an employer or contractee) in a variety of legal and practical ways.

Trust and transparency

Contract positions entail a level of risk between the customer and contractor. By requiring your sub contractors to undergo a background check before interfacing with the public, you can establish a community of trust and transparency.

Legal compliance

Mitigate negligent hiring and wrongful termination lawsuits. The cost of employee litigation can cripple company capital and resources, and conducting a formal process to screen your employees will help you navigate legal requirements.

Employee safety

Employers maintain the quality of their workforce. The background check process encourages honesty and communication with the employer, while employees maintain peace of mind amongst their colleagues.

What do background checks show?

What shows up on a background check depends on the type of background check an employer runs as well as some compliance requirements set by local, state, and federal laws.

Employers commonly request background checks that search for criminal records (for both misdemeanor and felony records) for the past 7 years. In some cases Checkr will report older records if they are reportable according to state and federal law, easily accessible at the court houses, or if the record is deemed highly severe.

Motor Vehicle Reports return data from at least 3 years back, though some states report older violations.

Employment verifications include verification of past employment for a maximum of 7 years, whereas education verifications only targets the highest degree obtained.

With our Assess adjudication suite, you have the ability to limit the reporting period for all, or certain types, of criminal records.

Some states have their own laws limiting reportability, and others have exceptions based on the candidate's salary, or for certain industries (like transportation network companies).

Ultimately, the answer to “what does a background check show” depends on the type of background check ordered.

Background checks can reveal a wide range of information about an employee’s past, including their work history, education, criminal history and more. Employers will choose from a variety of available background check packages or screening options based on the positions they’re hiring for and the type of information they require to make an informed choice.

Get to know Checkr

Join us for a deep dive into who Checkr is and how you can benefit from using our advanced background check technology.

How can I run background checks?

For small businesses, Checkr’s all-in-one platform is simple, with a fully online process, built-in compliance tools, and pay-as-you-go pricing. Plus, we have a best-in-class support team. You can get started in 3 steps:

  1. Register: Create an account in just a few minutes.
  2. Verification and setup: We’ll verify your account and email you with a secure login.
  3. Run your first check: Log in to your account and run your first check. You’ll get the results in the same place.

For high-volume enterprise businesses, Checkr provides a dedicated team to guide you through the setup process and provide best practices. Your dedicated team works with you to optimize the candidate journey, recruiter experience, and adjudication processes.

For customers utilizing our APIs to design a fully integrated solution, the Checkr team partners closely with you to launch a successful integration.

Contact sales to get started today.

What does a background check consist of?

There are different types of background check procedures, each with its own inclusions and specific purpose.

Criminal background checks

Search local, state, federal, and international records to look into your candidate’s criminal history.

Civil background checks

County or Federal civil searches provide insight into a candidate’s legal history beyond criminal activity. Information may include actions such as restraining orders or breach of contract suits.


An international background check may include criminal history, global watchlists, education and employment verifications outside of the US.

Driver and MVR background checks

MVRs, also known as driving background checks or MVR screens, search a person’s driving record and history as reported from a state Department of Motor Vehicles or similar government entity which issues driver licenses. Oftentimes, MVRs are used to understand driving records for employment purposes, but they can also be used for a variety of other reasons.

Drug and health

Pre-employment drug and health screenings include occupational health tests and controlled substance checks to determine a candidate’s fitness and eligibility for a role. Employee drug testing and pre employment medical screening can look like clinical or traditional drug screenings, onsite drug screenings, or occupational health screenings.


Employment history checks and verifications help employers verify employment and other important candidate data. Often referred to as verification of employment or employment checking, the process confirms important details of a candidate’s past work experience.

How does a background check work?

Conducting background checks is a complex process. Using the Checkr Hosted Apply Flow helps simplify the process for you and your candidates, by automatically gathering the candidate PII required to process your requested screenings.Using the Checkr Hosted Apply Flow to order background checks results in the following workflow:

  1. You request a background check.

2. The candidate receives an email with a link that opens a window requesting that they authorize the check and provide their information.

3. The candidate enters their Personally Identifying Information (PII), and signs a disclosure, consent and authorization form electronically. This information is securely transferred to Checkr, and allows the background check to proceed.

4. Checkr processes the information, and conducts all required screenings.

5. After the screenings finish, the report is posted to the Checkr Dashboard for your review. If they have requested it, a copy is also sent to your candidate.

6. You review the report and determine the candidate's eligibility based on your criteria. Based on that information, you decide whether to engage the candidate or initiate an Adverse Action.

What is a background check procedure’s turnaround time?

The process of ordering a background check is simple and takes under a minute. Once the check is ordered, 84% of our reports are completed within 15 minutes, and 95% are completed within 24 hours.

Checkr ETA provides an estimate of the time it will take for the County Criminal Checks included on the individual report to complete, to help your adjudicators, recruiters, and candidates better plan for when their reports will complete.

The industry average turnaround time for most background checks is between 3-5 business days, but can take longer than expected depending on the depth of the search, geographical location of your candidates, or county courthouse operations.

Most database screenings (SSN Trace, Sex Offender Registry Check, Global Watchlist Records Check, and National Criminal Records Check) are completed within a few seconds.

More comprehensive searches generally take longer, especially when county courthouses are involved.

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Background check resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a background check show a DUI?

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is considered a criminal offense in almost every state and county. That also means that it may show up on a criminal background check, as well as a motor vehicle record (MVR) check.

However, this can depend on whether the DUI is already a conviction or still a pending case. If it’s the latter and a court hasn’t passed a verdict yet, some background checking agencies do exclude it on that person’s report.

Note that hiring decisions based on a DUI record are subject to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules. In other words, it could be an unfair practice to have a blanket policy to reject an applicant with an otherwise clean record just for a DUI. It’s a good practice to consider the job scope and responsibilities and how it relates to a DUI conviction.

Reference our blog for more information on DUIs and background checks.

Will a misdemeanor show up on a background check?

By law, crimes are classified as misdemeanors if they carry a jail sentence of less than a year or involve other forms of punishments like fines or community service. These are often minor crimes, such as shoplifting, petty theft, and trespassing.Despite being minor, misdemeanors are still considered crimes and therefore appear on background checks.

However, since they are often charged at the county level, they might not appear on state-level or international background checks. Learn more about misdemeanors on background checks here.

If I was arrested but never charged, will that be on my background check?

Generally, arrests are flagged on criminal background checks as long as they occurred during the last seven years. In addition, an employer can see the nature of the arrest in the report. In other words, whether the case is still pending, the person got convicted, or the charges got dropped.

However, it’s up to the agency or firm doing the screening if they will include arrests in the report, as per EEOC rules. Also, note that some states, such as California, prohibit arrest records as hiring criteria.

You can learn more about the impact of arrests and criminal records appearing on a background with this helpful article about the adjudication process.

What about warrants?

As a rule, only executed warrants (when the officer makes the arrest) appear on your criminal record and are, therefore, included in a criminal background check.

Open warrants (when evidence is submitted by law enforcement but the person hasn’t been arrested yet) don’t generally appear on a background check. The same is true with bench warrants, which happen when a judge issues an arrest order for a person due to non-appearance in a criminal or civil court.

Do restraining orders appear on background checks?

Since restraining orders are civil in nature instead of criminal, it doesn’t usually appear in a background check. However, there are exceptions.

Some job roles or professions, especially those requiring high security clearance like the U.S. military, often do a more thorough background check. These may include restraining orders, even ones that have already lapsed.

Another special case is when a restraining order is issued as part of a criminal charge against the person.

Do note that when a restraining order is violated, it becomes a criminal charge. This, of course, will appear on a criminal background check.

If I have expunged charges, will they still show up on background checks?

By definition, an expunged charge means that the criminal record is wiped off your record as if it never existed. Therefore, it will not appear on background checks. What’s more, it’s unethical for background check firms to include expunged records on any screening report.

However, be wary that traces of the expunged record may still appear in other places, such as a credit reporting company. While it won’t be reported intentionally, there’s still the possibility that the employer will see the expunged record by accident.

For more information on “what is a background check?” you can read our beginner’s guide here.

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