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Is It Legal for Employers to Run Background Checks?


Yes, an employer can legally run a background check. As long as the process follows applicable laws, the employer has the right to look into an individual’s education, employment history, and any evidence of a criminal record.

But, there are times when places of business run illegal background checks, too. For example, it is not legal to check a person’s credit report or access a criminal background check without disclosing this intent and obtaining written consent. If you have questions about your situation, a Columbus Ohio employment attorney can provide advice about background checks.

Certain Information Must Be Related to the Job

Asking about medical information during the application process is not allowed. In general, the only permissible inquiry is if a potential employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodations. There can be medical information inquiries after a person accepts a position, but not during the application process.

All applicants need to be treated equally and fairly. This means that an employer should be running the same check for all potential hires. Discrimination is illegal. An employer cannot run any checks on only certain applicants or employees in connection with protected categories, such as a person’s gender, race, or national origin.

For employers, the best strategy is to be sure all of your policies regarding background checks are related to job duties and neutral. If an employer goes too far, it opens up the possibility of being liable in the event of a legal dispute.

Steps after receiving a Background Check 

After receiving a background check, an employer or potential employer must take certain steps before they take any action in reliance upon the background check. In other words, an employer cannot simply run a background check and then decide not to proceed with hiring a potential employee or otherwise proceed to terminate an employee.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires employers who will use background checks when making employment decisions to follow certain steps before they take any action in reliance upon the information in the background check. First, employers must provide employees or potential employees with a copy of the background check and a summary of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Then, employers must allow a reasonable time for the employee or potential employee to correct any errors in the background checks.

If an employer or potential employer does not follow all of the steps required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, they could be held liable for damages, including lost wages, statutory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and other damages. If you have questions about whether  your rights were violated under the rules that permit background checks, contact an Ohio background check attorney to discuss your rights further. 

Prepare for a Background Check

If you are worried about a potential background check, there are steps you can take to ease your concerns. For instance, you can order a copy of your credit report and review it yourself. This is also true for driving records. A driving record request could come into play if the position requires driving or vehicular use.

Know the facts and be honest each step of the way. Discuss your situation with a Columbus background check attorney. When people try to hide information, it can lead to more problems down the line. There are even times when it is appropriate for a new hire to bring up background check concerns first. After all, if the person is the best person for the job, the employer might be willing to overlook a past issue.

Of course, good habits can help to keep background checks clean. Paying every bill before its due date and being constantly fiscally responsible will boost your credit score. And staying out of legal trouble will reduce any criminal record concerns.

Are you interviewing for a position and are concerned about a background check? Or did a recent background check overreach? The lawyers at Coffman Legal LLC are committed advocates for all Ohio workers and will help you with any background check issues. We use our experience and knowledge to help you. Connect with us today for a free and confidential consultation about any background check issues you experience.


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