What can employers ask about you when they check your background prior to offering you a job, or as a condition of employment? You may be surprised by how much information employers can learn. However, there are also some things an employer definitely cannot ask you because of state law. There are also federal laws that restrict how employers can look into your background and when they can perform checks.
Also, just because a prospective employer asks a question, does not mean your former employer has to answer it. Many employers have policies about background checks that limit the information they’ll share with another company. Where to give biometrics test.
Learn what employers can legally ask about you, how former employers (and other references) can answer, and how you can prepare for a background check.
Why Employers Conduct Background Checks
Why do employers want to know so much about you? Employers are cautious when bringing in new staff. They often conduct pre-employment background checks to make sure that there are no surprises waiting after they make a hire. It’s much easier not to hire someone than it is to have to terminate them if a problem arises after they come aboard.
What Employers Want to Know
In some cases, companies will simply verify basic information, such as places and dates of employment. In other cases, the company will ask for more information, which your previous employer and other sources may, or may not, disclose.
Here are some of the issues that employers might inquire about when checking on your background, along with information about what is illegal in some states, and what is less commonly asked:
- Dates of employment
- Educational degrees and dates
- Job title
- Job description
- Why the employee left the job
- Whether the employee was terminated for cause
- Whether there were any issues with the employee regarding absenteeism or tardiness
- Whether the employee is eligible for rehire
- Salary (many employers will not share this information; in fact, it is not legal to ask in some locations)2
- Performance issues and problems (most employers will decline to share this information for fear of lawsuits for defamation)
- Legal or ethical transgressions (some employers will not share this information for the same reasons mentioned above)
- Credit history (depending on the job)
- Criminal history (depending on the job and state law)3
- Motor vehicle records (depending on the job)
How Former Employers Can Answer
Keep in mind that, even if an employer asks for the background information listed above, and it is legal, the former employer does not have to answer.
Many companies limit what they will disclose about former employees. Sometimes this is for fear of lawsuits for defamation.4 Other organizations may not release information due to internal privacy policies. These companies often limit staff to simply sharing dates of employment and job titles when inquiries are made about former employees.