How Far Back Do Background Checks Go?

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Considering how it helps screen candidates, background screening has become a routine practice for many businesses. But, how far back should you look? Is it advisable to scrutinize as far back into an applicant’s background as you can? Will this better help you hire the best talent? In this article, we’ll discuss how far back different types of background checks go. 

How Far Back Should An Employer Look Into A Candidate’s Background?

Initially, it may sound good to say that your company extensively reviews years and years of applicant history before hiring them. But, upon closer inspection, this practice is actually resource-intensive and time-consuming. At the end of the day, looking too far back into a candidate’s background may even cause you to:

  • Inadvertently invade their privacy: Excessive background checks may be seen as potentially invading. This can negatively reflect on the company and deter qualified applicants from pursuing the position. 
  • Commit mistakes that may have legal consequences: In some cases, the law dictates how far back an employer can look into a candidate’s background. If you go beyond the timeframe, you may be held liable for it. 
  • Collect irrelevant information: Excessive background checks may uncover information that has little bearing on the candidate's qualifications or ability to perform the job. This may distract your team from the more important considerations. 
  • Neglect the candidate’s current competencies: Emphasizing too much on historical data may cause you to overlook a candidate's current competencies and qualifications. 

With these implications, how far back does an employment background check go? It turns out, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for this. Primarily, it depends on the law, the position, and the type of check you want to run. 

How Regulations Affect the Time Scope of Background Checks

While there’s no straightforward answer to how far back do background checks go, all companies must be mindful of the relevant rules and regulations affecting background screening. 

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) in the USA, for example, imposes some restrictions on how far back employers can look based on the salary associated with the position. If the salary is less than $75,000, then employers cannot look beyond 7 years for civil judgments, government sanctions, and disciplinary actions connected to the candidate’s professional license. They also cannot look beyond 10 years for bankruptcies. If the salary is more than $75,000, then it may be possible to look into much older information. 

In New Zealand, past criminal convictions are automatically concealed under a Clean Slate Scheme if the candidate satisfies several criteria, one of which is having no convictions within the last 7 years. 

Different countries may have different regulations when it comes to how far back employers can look into a candidate's information. Hence, it's a good practice to prioritize checking the laws, like the Data Privacy Act or Ban the Box, before conducting background checks. 

How Far Back Do Background Checks Go: Appropriate Look-Back Periods for Various Background Checks

Besides the law, look-back periods also depend on the type of checks you would conduct. Let’s look into the different types of background checks and discuss how far they go back.

Criminal History Check

Looking into an applicant’s criminal history helps employers discern whether the individual would later pose a threat to the company, employees, clients, and the public. But how far back do criminal background checks go?

It usually depends on the laws where you operate your business. 

In the Philippines

In the Philippines, employers mostly rely on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance, which they ask the candidate to provide during the hiring process. This clearance shows records of criminal cases filed in the courts of the country. As such, it’s not very common for companies to consider look-back periods. 

In the United Kingdom 

How far back do criminal background checks go in the UK? Well, they also do not put emphasis on the look-back periods. Instead, they divided their criminal record checks, called Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, into 4 levels: Basic, Standard, Enhanced, and Enhanced with Barred List. 

Each level shows different records. Employers are allowed to conduct a standard check, but a more detailed check is usually only reserved for certain roles, like healthcare and childcare. 

In Australia

In Australia, the look-back period may be from 5 to 10 years since this is the time it usually takes for convictions to be spent (removed from records). More serious offenses might stay unspent for indefinite periods, however. 

In the United States

In the US, besides FCRA, employers must also consider state laws to know how far back background checks can go. Certain states only allow a look-back period of seven years. 

If you're allowed a longer look-back period for criminal history checks, it's still a good practice to reflect on how far ago you should review. A decade-old conviction, after all, may not hold any weight in your hiring decision if the applicant has no other pattern of criminality  

Learn more about Criminal Records Check for Employment here

Education Background Verification

How far back do education background checks go? In most cases, employers only look into the applicant's tertiary education (associate's and bachelor's degrees) and then their graduate-level education. If the candidate has received certifications and training relevant to the industry or role, companies often advise them to submit them as well. 

Employers can go as far back as they wish when it comes to education background verification. However, please note that educational institutions may have rules on how long they would keep student records.

For this reason, the emphasis is often on the authenticity of educational attainment. As employers, you may call the administrative office of the concerned institution to confirm details, such as:

  • Degrees earned
  • Date of Attendance
  • Honors and awards received
  • Date of graduation 

You may also want to confirm the accreditation of the institution the candidate attended. 

Employment History

How far back do background checks go? For employment verification it may be 7 to 10 years, as this is usually the length of time companies keep records of their employees. 

You may opt for a shorter look-back period if, upon review, you decide that their most recent experience already makes them qualified for the position. On the other hand, you may want to look back further if the candidate has a huge employment gap. 

Credit History Check

Credit history checks are often only necessary for law and finance-related industries or if the position requires handling of client or company money or sensitive information. How far do background checks go when it comes to credit history? It’s best to look into what the laws say. 

For example, the FCRA often limits the look-back period to only 7 years if the position's salary is less than $75,000. In some areas, credit checks for employment are not allowed unless your business is in the financial sector. 

Best Practices When Conducting Background Checks

While the look-back periods for different types of background checks matter, it's even more important to adhere to the following best practices:

Ensure Legal Compliance

Laws and regulations not only affect look-back periods, but they also affect background checks as a whole. Ensuring that your checks comply with the applicable laws protects your business from legal risks. 

Focus on Relevance

No matter how far back you want to review a candidate's information, remember to focus on the aspects that are directly relevant to the position. This not only saves time and resources but also helps make better hiring decisions. 

Stay Consistent 

Apply background checks consistently across all candidates for a particular position to prevent discrimination and ensure fairness in the hiring process. Regarding how far back employment background checks go, employers should also practice consistency, but there may be exceptions to this, such as looking further back into a candidate's history because of a huge employment gap. 

Weigh Relevant Checks Together

Many other checks don’t necessarily have look-back periods, but they are just as important. Identity checks serve as the foundation for all the other checks, reference checks give further insights into the applicant's background and work attitude, and professional licenses are often only valid for a few years. 

Partner with a Reliable Third Party

To speed up the process, ensure compliance with the relevant laws, and make better hiring decisions, many businesses now choose to partner with a reliable third party who can conduct background checks on their behalf. Background screening platforms like Veremark can conduct extensive checks, so you can focus on other important tasks concerning running your business. 

How Veremark Can Help

Trusted by the world's best workplaces, Veremark can conduct multiple checks for one or multiple applicants. The system is fully automated and easily integrates into your system, allowing you to see relevant information side by side so you can make better hiring decisions. We also have the compliance framework to ensure the checks adhere to the relevant rules and regulations. 

With Veremark, you simply need to provide candidate details and customize your requirements. We’ll run the checks and you’ll receive reports with insights into your applicants. 

Conclusion

How far back do background checks go? Superficial checks may not contribute much to your hiring decision, but excessive digging may pose some legal risks on top of being time-consuming and resource-intensive. Ultimately, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to this as it depends on the law, types of checks, and the position.

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FAQs

Why is it important to consider look-back periods for background checks?

Employers consider look-back periods to focus their attention, time, and resources on the relevant information that can help them decide whether a candidate is suitable for the position. More importantly, some laws, such as FCRA have strict restrictions on how far back employers can review candidate information.

How far back do background checks go?

There’s no straightforward answer to this question as it depends on the law, the type of check, the position, and sometimes, even the candidates themselves. For instance, the FCRA does not allow reporting of civil information beyond 7 years if the position’s salary is $75,000 or below. On the other hand, looking into a decade of working history may be necessary if a candidate has a huge employment gap.

Do all checks have look-back periods?

Not all checks have look-back periods, but they are just as crucial. For example, most employers no longer consider look-back periods for professional licenses because they already come with a period of validity. Likewise, identity and reference checks often don’t require look-back periods as well.

Is it better to outsource background checks to professionals?

Many companies opt to partner with a reliable third party like Veremark to streamline the process, gain better insights on the candidates, and to improve compliance to the applicable laws.

FAQs

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.

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

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