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How Far Back Do Employee Background Checks Go?

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Background investigations are a standard part of the pre-employment screening. Recruiters can use background checks to solidify their hiring decisions. The more information they have on candidates, the better-informed employment decisions they can make.  

However, conducting these checks isn’t uniform, as it depends on various factors.  

Employers can decide how far back to run these background searches while adhering to federal and state laws governing these checks, which cover employment history, criminal records, credit scores, and more.  

Read on to answer how far back employee background checks go based on search type and state requirements.

How Far Back Do Employers Go on Background Checks?

Before we delve into the question of how far back employee background checks go, we need to define what is a background check 

Employers run pre-employment background checks on prospective job candidates to verify their credentials and identity. As many background check statistics point out, this is a common practice, especially for roles requiring high security or trust.  

In fact, over 95% of employers reported conducting pre-employment background checks.  

This time frame will give HR teams a good look at an applicant’s recent behavior, which somewhat indicates how they will act in the near future. The aim is to allow businesses to gather as much information as possible when hiring people while protecting individuals from intrusive investigations.  

Although the industry-wide norm is to search only the last seven years, screening with a longer time frame may be required depending on the job position. The income level and state employment laws play a part in determining the exact limit.  

Since state laws vary considerably, employers should review relevant local legislation before launching a vetting process or consulting with an attorney.  

Alternatively, background investigation companies keep track of these laws and any recent changes and help employers stay compliant.  

how far back do employee background checks go

Types of Background Checks & Different Lengths of Time

You might be wondering how many years back background checks go. Well, the lookback period varies based on the type of record. Below is an overview of the common length restrictions based on different background checks.  







Pre-employment background checks 





Typically cover seven years of criminal and court records but can go back further depending on compliance laws 





Bankruptcy checks 



Bankruptcies can go back as far as ten years 





Credit history checks 



Employment credit checks go back seven years or ten years, depending on the candidate's expected salary and specific state laws 





Criminal felonies 



Felonies may be reported indefinitely or restricted to seven or ten years, depending on the state 





Criminal misdemeanors and minor infractions 



Misdemeanors may be reported indefinitely or restricted to fiveseven, or ten years, depending on the state 





Driving records check 



Driving records may go back between three to ten years, depending on the state 





Educational history 



It may be verified throughout their lifetime 





Employment history 



It may be verified throughout their lifetime 





Professional license verification 



It may be verified throughout their lifetime 

Employee Background Checks & FCRA Regulations

Employers planning to evaluate a candidate’s history as part of the pre-employment screening program must be aware of the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements.  

This federal law outlines how employers can conduct pre-employment checks, whether credit record checks, a criminal record search, or verification of past employment.  

Some of the compliance regulations that employers must follow are: 

  • Inform the candidate in writing that they plan to obtain a background check for employment purposes. 
  • Get a signed consent form from the applicant agreeing to the background check. 
  • Provide the candidate with an adverse notice based on the background findings.  
  • Give the candidate enough time to review the decision and respond.  
  • Provide a copy to the candidate of their summary of rights and a copy of the background check findings.  

While seemingly minor, not following the proper procedure violates federal law and can lead to expensive lawsuits.   

Employee Background Checks & State Regulations

In addition to abiding by the FCRA regulations, employers must stay up-to-date on state regulations where their business operates. While the FRCA does not have a time frame for how far into the past employers can search, specific state regulations may limit how long adverse information can appear.   

Typically, felony records are kept for a long time, while misdemeanor records may be purged sooner. 

Background Check Companies

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How Far Back do Pre-Employment Credit Checks Go?

When it comes to information collected as part of a background check, you may wonder, how far back do credit checks go? 

Pre-employment credit checks can typically go back seven years.  

However, state laws sometimes allow a lookback time frame of ten years – especially for jobs with higher salaries or positions in the finance field.  

The following adverse information that is more than seven years old relating to an individual’s finances may not be reported to employers: 

  • Bankruptcies that are more than ten years old.  
  • Accounts that were sent to collections agency more than seven years ago.  
  • Arrest records that are more than seven years old.  
  • Civil suits and civil judgments that are more than seven years old.  
  • Tax liens that were paid more than seven years ago. 

These time frames do not apply to candidates for positions with an annual salary of $75,000 or more.  

In recent years, several states and localities have banned or restricted pre-employment credit history checks.  

Currently, ten states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have these laws in place. Furthermore, jurisdictions of the District of Columbia, and the cities of Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia – have passed similar laws.  

How Far Back do Criminal Background Checks Go?

The question of how far back do criminal background checks go depends on the severity of the crime, the state, compliance laws, and the background search type.  

As mentioned above, the FCRA follows strict rules regarding how far back criminal background investigations can go. Misdemeanors are commonly listed indefinitely or restricted to five, seven, or ten years. Criminal felonies may remain on a person’s record indefinitely, or, depending on the state, be limited to seven or ten years.  

Several states currently have seven-year reporting laws restricting the lookback periods:  

  • California – Criminal convictions are limited to seven years; non-convictions (including full pardons, arrests not leading to conviction, and other dismissed records) cannot be reported.  
  • Hawaii – Consideration of felony convictions is restricted to seven years. Consideration of misdemeanor/infraction convictions is limited to five years; non-convictions cannot be considered in pre-employment background checks. 
  • Kansas – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or over. 
  • Maryland – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or over. 
  • Massachusetts – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years; non-convictions cannot be reported in pre-employment background checks. 
  • Montana – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years; non-convictions cannot be reported in pre-employment background checks. 
  • New Hampshire – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or over. 
  • New Mexico – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years; non-convictions cannot be reported. 
  • New York – Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $25,000 or over; non-convictions cannot be reported. 
  • Washington– Criminal convictions are restricted to seven years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or over. 

Pre-Employment Background Checks and Employee Rights

When making decisions regarding the company’s labor force – including hiring, promotion, and reassignment – employers want to consider applicants’ backgrounds.   

However, verifying a person’s background is not simple.  

There must be a balance between genuine cross-checking of candidates’ information and credentials and protecting the individual’s rights. 

For example, the FCRA law governs when and how far back employee background checks go. In addition, these background checks can’t be based on race, religion, nationality, sex, disability, age, or genetic information. Therefore, if an employer chooses to run background checks on applicants, they must do so for all applicants instead of only selecting certain criteria.  

Furthermore, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the use of criminal history may sometimes violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Employment Background Checks & Fair-Hiring

Is past behavior a strong predictor of future actions?  

Many people believe the answer isn’t always clear-cut.  

An act committed years ago may not be relevant to a candidate’s application today. With this in mind, a campaign known as “Ban the Box” is designed to help promote fair chance hiring for impacted individuals.  

More than ten states have enacted Ban the Box laws, limiting the nature and extent of information employers can request during the hiring process and how far back employee background checks go 

The law has also extended to include private employers.  

On a Final Note 

Employers need to answer how far back employee background checks go and consider the relevance of these findings to their respective industries. The exact timeframe may vary, but the general rule for how far back background checks go is seven years.  

Written by Shortlister Editorial Team
Written by Shortlister Editorial Team

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