While employers are not prohibited from seeking a background check, they cannot use background checks in a way that discriminates:

  • An employer cannot treat job applicants with the same criminal records differently because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;
  • An employer cannot subject people of a particular race, color, religion, sex or national origin to background checks but not other groups.
  • An employer cannot refuse to hire applicants with criminal histories in a way that negatively impacts people of a particular race where the exclusion is unnecessary to carrying out the job.
  • A background check that automatically excludes all people with criminal history or that covers more than a five-year period may violate laws against race discrimination.

If an employer does conduct a criminal background check, it has to follow the procedures required under federal law:

  • An employer must provide you with a notice alerting you that a background check may be obtained;
  • The notice must be in a separate document (i.e. not buried in fine print in the middle of an application);
  • The employer must obtain your permission to conduct a background check (usually by signing);
  • If something comes back on your background check, an employer must provide you with a copy of the background check report and a description in writing of your federal rights.
  • An employer must give you an opportunity to dispute the findings of the background report before taking adverse action against you.
  • The information on your background check must accurately reflect your criminal history.

If you are a low-wage worker (employed or temporarily unemployed) and experiencing problems with your background check, you may call Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom for a free consultation. We are a nonprofit organization that helps low-wage workers access the legal and organizational support they need to protect their rights and connects low-wage workers to employment lawyers when needed.