Background Checks Done in the United States: What You Need to Know

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In the United States, conducting background checks is a crucial step in the hiring process. It ensures the safety and integrity of the workplace as checks help verify the accuracy of an applicant's resume, assess their criminal history, and evaluate potential risks they might pose to the organisation. By thoroughly vetting candidates, employers can make informed decisions that protect their business and uphold high standards of professionalism.

Background checks in the US are done by various entities, including private companies specialising in employment screening. Learn more about the background checks done in the United States here. 

The Significance of Background Checks in the US

Background checks are important because they help employers make sure that the people they are hiring are who they say they are. This help employers:

Protect their existing employees, clients, and assets

Employers can use background checks to see if a potential employee has any criminal records or if they have any other nefarious history such as that of violence which can pose a risk to their work environment or other people working in the company. 

Background checks can likewise confirm whether candidates have not engaged in activities, such as gross misconduct, that would disqualify them from certain positions, such as financial fraud in banking.

background screening companies in usa

Ensure compliance with the laws and regulations

Some regulations require employees to meet certain standards. For example, those working in the financial sector need to undergo credit checks. Roles that work with children and vulnerable adults may need to be checked for criminal history. If a hire is to handle heavy machinery, they may need to undergo health and drug screening. 

Verify the candidate’s qualifications

Of course, one of the main reasons companies conduct pre-employment checks in the US is to confirm the candidate’s credentials and qualifications. This helps them make an informed decision about the individual’s knowledge and skills to fulfil their role and contribute to organisational success. 

Verifying their qualifications and credentials are particularly important nowadays, considering reports say over half of employees report on lying on their resume. In fact, even those going for executive positions also fake their credentials. 

Comprehensive Types of Background Checks in the US

Background checks for employment can include information on criminal behaviour, previous employment, education and more. The most common types of employment background checks in the United States are:

  • Identity Verification
  • Criminal Records Check
  • Employment History
  • Education Verification
  • Credit Check 
  • Drug Testing

Here’s a more detailed information about each of these checks done in the United States:

ID Verification

Verifying the identity of potential employees is a cornerstone of effective background checks in the US, ensuring that candidates are who they claim to be. ID verification helps prevent fraud and identity theft, which can protect the integrity of the company and safeguard its assets. It also serves as the foundation for all the other checks the employer would conduct. 


In the US, the process typically involves checking government-issued IDs such as Social Security cards, driver’s licence, or passports against national databases to confirm authenticity and uncover any discrepancies. Fingerprint-matching, facial recognition, and comparing biometric data from verified sources can also be done for identity verification.

Learn more about Identity Verification here


Criminal Records Check

Criminal records checks are crucial for maintaining a safe and compliant workplace, allowing employers to assess whether a candidate has a history that could impact their suitability for a role. This type of background check in the US is particularly important in positions of trust or those involving the public (eg. transportation) vulnerable populations (eg. healthcare)


The process involves searching municipal, state, county, and federal criminal databases for the candidate’s involvement in crimes, such as theft and embezzlement, fraud, crimes of violence, sexual offences, etc. 

A candidate may request for their Identity History Summary from the FBI. This contains information about their criminal activity based on fingerprint records submitted by local or state authorities to the FBI. This type of criminal records check can take 2 to 20 days depending on whether the individual proceeds to the post office for fingerprinting, mail their fingerprint card, or create a mail request. 

Learn more about criminal background checks for employment here

Employment History

Checking a candidate's employment history is important to verify their work experience and learn about their performance. This step ensures that the information provided is accurate and helps employers gauge the reliability and integrity of the applicant. 


Employment verification in the US can be done primarily in 3 ways: 

  • Access a database to gather information. However, such databases (eg. The Work Number), cannot be accessed by some employers. Also, note that this does not give details, such insights into the candidate's employee evaluation.
  • Manual verification where the HR team contacts past employers to confirm employment details. 
  • Partnering with a background screening platform 

The turnaround time varies depending on the method you choose. For instance, doing it yourself can take weeks or even months, taking into account the number of employers you need to get in touch with and their response time. 

Common Background Checks in the US: Processes and Turnaround Times
Type of Background Check Process Turnaround Time
Identity Verification In the US, this involves checking government-issued IDs like Social Security cards, driver's licenses, or passports against national databases. Additional methods include fingerprint-matching, facial recognition, and comparing biometric data from verified sources. Varies based on method and immediacy of data access
Criminal Records Check Involves searching municipal, state, county, and federal criminal databases for the candidate’s involvement in crimes. Candidates may also request their Identity History Summary from the FBI based on fingerprint records. 2 to 20 days, depending on the method used (post office fingerprinting, mailing fingerprint card, etc.)
Employment History Methods include accessing databases like The Work Number, manual verification by contacting past employers, or partnering with a background screening platform. Varies widely; can take weeks or even months based on the number of past employers and their response times
Education Verification Typically involves contacting educational institutions directly or using third-party services to verify degrees, diplomas, certificates, and sometimes transcripts. Weeks to months, depending on the institution’s policies and their responsiveness
Credit Check Conducted by requesting the credit report from agencies or partnering with a background screening platform. Regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to ensure privacy and fairness. Varies, but generally quick if no disputes are involved
Drug Testing Involves collecting and analyzing biological samples like urine or hair in certified labs to detect illegal drugs or misuse of prescription medications. Varies, generally a few days to a week depending on the lab and testing methods used

Education Verification

Education verification is essential to confirm that a candidate has the credentials they claim, which is often a prerequisite for professional and technical roles. This type of background check helps ensure that all personnel meet the necessary educational standards, thereby maintaining the quality and competence of the workforce. 


In the US, this process typically involves contacting educational institutions directly or using third-party services to verify degrees, diplomas, certificates, and sometimes transcripts, to ensure their legitimacy and relevance to the job requirements. Done in-house, this process can take weeks or even months depending on the institution’s policies and responsiveness. 

Credit Check

Credit checks are an important part of background checks in the US for positions that involve financial responsibilities or handling sensitive information. They provide insight into a candidate's financial stability and integrity, which can be critical indicators of trustworthiness in certain roles. 


There are two ways to conduct credit checks in the US: requesting for the credit report from agencies or partnering with a background screening platform.

In the US, regardless of the method you choose, credit checks for employment purposes are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which ensures that employers obtain written consent from the candidate before conducting the check and adhere to privacy and fairness standards.

Learn more about Credit Report Checks here


Drug Testing

Drug testing is a common requirement in many industries in the US, aimed at ensuring a safe and productive work environment. This type of background check helps employers maintain compliance with safety regulations and reduce workplace accidents associated with substance abuse. 


The process typically involves collecting and analysing biological samples, such as urine or hair, in certified labs to detect the presence of illegal drugs or misuse of prescription medications.

For more information on Health and Drug Testing, visit this page

The Background Check Process in the US

Background checks are essential for any job applicant, and they are required by law in most US states. This is because employers need to know that the person they hire will not be a liability to them in the future.

1. Prioritising compliance with laws 

Ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local laws is the first and most critical step in the background check process. 

Employers must be familiar with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which governs how background checks must be conducted and how information can be used. Additionally, they should be aware of any relevant state laws and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines, which help prevent discriminatory practices. 

For more information on the New Background Check Laws, read this article

2. Establishing a Background Check Policy

A clear and consistent background check policy is fundamental for any organisation. This policy should outline the:

  • Scope of the background checks, 
  • Types of background checks performed (criminal, credit, employment history, etc.)
  • Roles for which these checks are necessary. 

It should also address how the information will be used in making hiring decisions and how it will be stored or disposed of to protect candidate privacy. 

A well-documented policy helps in ensuring uniformity and fairness in the hiring process across all departments and positions.

3. Informing the Candidate and Obtaining Their Written Consent

Before conducting a background check, employers must inform the candidate about the process and obtain their written consent. This step is mandated by the FCRA and involves providing the candidate with a clear and conspicuous written disclosure that a background check will be conducted. 

The consent form should be a standalone document, separate from the employment application, to emphasise its importance and ensure clear communication. This not only legalises the process but also builds trust between the candidate and the organisation.


4. Conducting the Background Checks

Once consent is obtained, the employer can proceed with the actual background checks. Many employers do this before making the job offer or during early onboarding. This particular step consists of various processes depending on the types of background checks you want to conduct. 

Typically, the first check to run is identity verification to build a strong foundation for all the other checks. After this comes the necessary checks for the role. When done in-house, conducting background checks can be tedious, labour-intensive, and time-consuming. 

However, when you partner with a trusted background check service provider like Veremark, the process only involves 3 steps:

  1. Provide details of the candidates (eg. name, birth date, etc.)
  2. Order and customise the checks you need 
  3. Wait for the report to be delivered

Background check providers also have the legal framework to conduct the checks in accordance with the law, greatly increasing compliance. 

5. Adjudication

Adjudication refers to the process of evaluating the results of a background check to determine a candidate's suitability for the position. This step must be conducted with great care to avoid discrimination and should be consistent with the company's policies and any applicable laws. 

The adjudication process should consider the nature and gravity of any findings, the timeliness of the information, and its direct relevance to the job responsibilities. This step is crucial in making fair and informed hiring decisions.

Learn more about the Adjudication Process here. For more information on how to read a background check report, you may proceed here

6. Sending Adverse Action Notice

If the employer decides to take adverse action (e.g., not hiring the applicant) based on the background check results, they must send a pre-adverse action notice to the candidate. This notice must include a copy of the background check report and a summary of the candidate’s rights under the FCRA. 

After giving the candidate reasonable time to review the report and respond, if the decision remains unchanged, a final adverse action notice must be sent. This notice should explain the final decision and provide information on the background check company used, along with instructions on how to challenge the results or obtain a free report from the reporting agency if the candidate requests it within 60 days.

Learn more about Adverse Action Notice here

What Information is Included in a Background Check?

The content of a background check report varies depending on the types of checks you conduct. In general, they contain the following:

Information Included in Background Checks
Type of Check Information Received by Employers
Identity Check Confirms the candidate's full name, date of birth, Social Security number, and addresses to ensure the candidate is who they claim to be.
Criminal Records Check Provides details about any criminal history, including felonies, misdemeanours, sex offences, and any current warrants.
Employment History Verifies past employment claims, including positions held, dates of employment, and sometimes reasons for leaving previous jobs.
Education Verification Confirms educational credentials claimed by the candidate, including degrees earned, institutions attended, and graduation dates.
Credit Report Includes credit history, financial judgments, bankruptcies, and outstanding debts, typically relevant for positions that handle finances.
Drug Testing Provides results indicating the presence of prescribed or illegal substances, which might be relevant for safety-sensitive positions.

How Do Employers in the United States Use Background Checks? 

Background checks are a way for employers in the US to make sure that their employees have no criminal activities or any other negative history that would reflect poorly on the company or compromise the safety of the other employees, clients, and public. 

In other words, employment background checks are designed specifically for the purpose of making informed hiring decisions and ensuring workplace safety and integrity. Employers cannot use these checks for any other purposes, such as discriminating against applicants based on their race, gender, or any other non-job-related factors.

The use of background information must strictly adhere to legal and ethical standards, particularly those outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which protect candidates from discriminatory practices. 

Which Entities Are Doing The Background Checks?

Background checks can be conducted by any employer, but many employers are choosing to hire background checking companies who are more experienced in performing various types of checks for potential candidates.

Partnering with a background service provider gives you the following benefits:

  • Increased compliance: Providers are well-versed in legal standards like the FCRA, ensuring compliance and reducing the risk of legal issues.
  • Accurate and comprehensive reports: Screening providers have access to extensive databases that enable more thorough and accurate background checks.
  • Speed and efficiency: Professional services can perform background checks faster, streamlining the hiring process.
  • Cost-effective: Using a third-party service can be more economical over time compared to managing checks in-house.
  • Customisation and scalability: Services can be tailored to specific business needs and easily scaled according to hiring volumes.

How To Choose a Background Check Provider in the US

To save time and money, improve compliance, and ensure accuracy of the results, many companies partner with background check providers instead of conducting checks on their own. However, it’s crucial to choose the right screening platform. Here are some of the things to look for when choosing a background check provider in the US:

  • Expertise: How long have they been in the industry, and what companies have they worked with now? 
  • Compliance: Do they conduct checks in accordance with the law? 
  • Customisation: Can you choose the checks you need and customise the requirements?
  • Scalability: Can you order only the checks you need? Do they require a long-term contract?
  • Automation: Are their checks 100% automated through an HR software? This is important because automation streamlines not only the checks but also the hiring process. 

Finally, don’t forget about customer support. As much as possible, choose a provider that offers 24/7 customer support to their clients. 

Trust Veremark For Your Background Check Needs in the US

Veremark is a background screening platform trusted by the world’s best workplaces. We have the framework to conduct the checks in compliance with the FCRA and other relevant laws in the US. Unlike other providers that require long-term contracts,our checks are customisable and scalable - send your requirements and order only the checks you need. Our checks are also 100% automated and can be easily integrated into your current workflow, streamlining your hiring process. 

With Veremark, all you need to do is provide candidate details, order the checks you need, and wait for the results to be delivered. Learn more about our background checks here. 

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What is the most common type of background check conducted for employment in the U.S.?

The most common type of background check in the U.S. for employment is the criminal records check, as it helps assess a candidate's suitability for the role, especially in positions of trust or public interaction. Employment and education verifications are also common.

How long does a typical background check take in the United States?

The duration of a background check in the U.S. can vary widely but generally takes anywhere from 2 days to several weeks, depending on the type of check and the depth of the investigation required.

Are employers required to get permission before conducting a background check?

Yes, employers are required to obtain written consent from the candidate before conducting most types of background checks, in compliance with laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Can a job applicant be denied employment based on the results of a background check?

Yes, a job applicant can be denied employment based on the results of a background check if the findings are relevant to the job duties and the employer can demonstrate that the decision is justified and compliant with legal standards.

What rights do job applicants have if they believe their background check contains errors?

Job applicants have the right to dispute any inaccuracies found in their background check and request a re-investigation. They are also entitled to receive a copy of the background check and a summary of their rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.


What background check do I need?

This depends on the industry and type of role you are recruiting for. To determine whether you need reference checks, identity checks, bankruptcy checks, civil background checks, credit checks for employment or any of the other background checks we offer, chat to our team of dedicated account managers.

Why should employers check the background of potential employees?

Many industries have compliance-related employment check requirements. And even if your industry doesn’t, remember that your staff have access to assets and data that must be protected. When you employ a new staff member you need to be certain that they have the best interests of your business at heart. Carrying out comprehensive background checking helps mitigate risk and ensures a safer hiring decision.

How long do background checks take?

Again, this depends on the type of checks you need. Simple identity checks can be carried out in as little as a few hours but a worldwide criminal background check for instance might take several weeks. A simple pre-employment check package takes around a week. Our account managers are specialists and can provide detailed information into which checks you need and how long they will take.

Can you do a background check online?

All Veremark checks are carried out online and digitally. This eliminates the need to collect, store and manage paper documents and information making the process faster, more efficient and ensures complete safety of candidate data and documents.

What are the benefits of a background check?

In a competitive marketplace, making the right hiring decisions is key to the success of your company. Employment background checks enables you to understand more about your candidates before making crucial decisions which can have either beneficial or catastrophic effects on your business.

What does a background check show?

Background checks not only provide useful insights into a candidate’s work history, skills and education, but they can also offer richer detail into someone’s personality and character traits. This gives you a huge advantage when considering who to hire. Background checking also ensures that candidates are legally allowed to carry out certain roles, failed criminal and credit checks could prevent them from working with vulnerable people or in a financial function.

Transform your hiring process

Request a discovery session with one of our background screening experts today.

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