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I have a criminal record and am applying for a job that requires a background check. What can I do?

Criminal Background Checks and Protection Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act

Most employers use criminal background checks when hiring a person for a job. An employer is allowed to use a criminal background check, but must follow certain rules. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) tells employers what they can and cannot do when using a background check.

An employer must tell the job applicant in writing that it plans to do a background check. The employer must give this notice before it actually does the background check. Also, the employer must get the applicant's permission, in writing, to do the background check.

If the employer decides not to hire the applicant, it must do two things. First, the employer must give the applicant a copy of the background check. Second, the employer must give the applicant the Federal Trade Commission's "A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act."

These two documents must be given to the applicant before denying employment. This gives the applicant time to correct any wrong information in the background check.

After the employer denies employment, it must give the applicant the contact information for the background check company. It must also give the applicant information about his or her right to dispute the information in the background check. The background check company can report convictions, no matter how old. Arrests, generally, cannot be reported if they are more than seven years old.

There are many common mistakes that background check companies report to employers. For example, the information may be wrong or the information may be about someone else with the same name or birth date. The background check company may also over-report information by stating: "There is a conviction with Mr. X.'s name. This may or may not be your Mr. X."

If you are applying for a job and you learn the employer obtained an incorrect background check, you should dispute the inaccuracies. More information about your rights can be found at

This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Julie Cortes and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 2. Click here to read the full issue.

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