A background check or background investigation is the process of looking up and compiling criminal records, commercial records and financial records of an individual or an organization. A check of a candidate's background can also include employment, education, credit history, motor vehicle and license record checks.
Employment background checks are often requested by employers on job candidates for employment screening, especially on candidates seeking a position that requires high security or a position of trust, such as in a school, hospital, financial institution, airport, and government. These checks are traditionally administered by a government agency, but can also be administered by private companies. Background checks can be expensive depending on the information requested. Results of a background check typically include past employment verification, credit history, and criminal history.
These checks are often used by employers as a means of judging a job candidate's past mistakes, character, and fitness, and to identify potential hiring risks for safety and security reasons. Background checks are also used to thoroughly investigate potential government employees in order to be given a security clearance. However, these checks may sometimes be used for illegal purposes, such as unlawful discrimination (or employment discrimination), identity theft, and violation of privacy.
Checks are frequently conducted to confirm information found on an employment application or résumé/curriculum vitae. One study showed that half of all reference checks done on prospective employees differed between what the job applicant provided and what the source reported. They may also be conducted as a way to further differentiate potential employees and pick the one the employer feels is best suited for the position. Employers have an obligation to make sure their work environment is safe for all employees and helps prevent other employment problems in the workplace.
In the United States, the Brady Bill requires criminal checks for those wishing to purchase handguns from licensed firearms dealers. Restricted firearms (like machine guns), suppressors, explosives or large quantities of precursor chemicals, and concealed weapons permits also require criminal checks.
Checks are also required for those working in positions with special security concerns, such as trucking, ports of entry, and airports (including airline transportation). Other laws exist to prevent those who do not pass a criminal check from working in careers involving the elderly, disabled, or children.