It might not have happened yet, but at some point, an employer will make passing a background check a condition of employment.

It might come as a surprise that 83% of employers screen all full-time hires, 67% screen part-time workers and 30% of gig economy companies screen people before even allowing them on their platform. Turns out, we carry our past with us- but this doesn’t have to be a problem, nor a mystery.

Screening those gross sex offenders

In general terms, a background screening is a process by which a company does a double-check before confirming an employment offer. They might, with your permission, look at things like your criminal history, use of certain drugs, or even your driving record. They may verify your educational or work history; whether you are on a sex offender database or on the terrorist watch list. They may go so far as to ensure that you have the right professional certification or can lift a specific weight- depending on what matters to the company and the job.

Unbridled curiosity or what?

Two things need to happen before a background check is performed. First, the company requesting the background check needs to be certified as having a “permissible purpose.” This is a requirement of the laws governing background checks. Part of establishing permissible purpose is making sure the company is legit, and that they are using the background check for hiring, volunteers, tenants or professional certification. Unbridled curiosity does not count! Second, you, the candidate, must give consent- no consent, no check. Ultimately it is up to you whether or not you allow the company to undergo a check, and it is up to the company whether or not they’ll hire you without it.

The FCRA to the rescue

Having a prospective employer dig into your criminal history is a big deal, to say the least. A huge amount of personal information is involved!

For this reason, background checking is governed by strict rules laid down in the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FCRA outlines the responsibilities of companies requesting and performing background checks, and the rights that people having when a check is being performed. The FCRA is a powerful piece of consumer protection, giving you recourse if you lose a job due to a background check. If you find yourself concerned about what has happened as a result of a background check, learn your rights!

Saints only?

It is not only saints who are employed. Every company has different concerns- sometimes different concerns for different jobs! If you don’t have a pristine personal history, don’t despair.

Simply ask what the background check will cover and consider addressing obvious issues head-on. Keep in mind that explaining how much you actually learned from a bad episode can be a respectable way to impress employers and receive a job offer.