What’s a Background Check?

The phrase “Background check” is a common way to describe any one or a combination of reports collected about individuals for employment purposes. The technical term used by the FCRA for a collection of such data is a “consumer report,” defined as “…any written, oral, or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living….”. (15 USC §1681a(d)(1))

If you are a California employer, the technical term for a background check is an “investigative consumer report,” which includes information about a person’s “character, general reputation, personal characteristics,” but does not include information about creditworthiness. The special rules for California Employers are below:

Special Rules for California Employers

Employers nationwide must comply with the minimum rules of the FCRA. California law goes beyond the national standard. Throughout this guide we have compared various requirements of the FCRA with the stronger California law. We have summarized these differences in the chart below. The requirements of California law are also discussed at length in PRC Fact Sheet 16a, “Employment Background Checks in California: A New Focus on Accuracy.”

Following are the most important things for a California employer to keep in mind when performing an employment background check:

Get permission at any time a background check is requested except for suspected wrongdoing.
Give a notice of rights at the time a check is requested, including the right to get a copy of any report made, and provide contact information for the screening agency.
If you conduct the background check yourself without the assistance of a third-party screening company, offer to provide copies of public records you obtain.

 

What’s a Consumer Report?

This is the term used in the federal FCRA for any “written, oral, or other communication,” in other words, a report made about a person by a consumer reporting agency that bears on the person’s “credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living.” This includes credit reports and investigative consumer reports (also sometimes called “interview” reports) made, among other things, for the employment purposes of hiring, promotion, reassignment, or retention.

 

What’s an Investigative Consumer Report?

Under the federal FCRA this means a report about a consumer’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living in which information is obtained through interviews with neighbors, friends, or associates. Under California’s Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act, or ICRAA, an investigative consumer report is a report in which the same types of information are obtained through any means. The term in California excludes credit reports

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