Your company might know why it is important to get a criminal background check on any potential employee, but is stumped on how to go about finding these reports. You know that you’ll need to gather information from your employee and submit it through government channels, but what do you need to know? Who do you need to send this data to and how much will it cost?

Unfortunately, this answer varies not just from search to search, but area to area. Not only do individual states have specific mandates, but so do specific counties. The federal search even have specific guidelines for each state. While this search might seem exhausting, there are a few specific facts that hold true across the United States and can help you start your search process.

County

Your search should begin at the county level. This report will cover local criminal activity that occurred within county lines with the standard scope of information covering the last seven years, though some reports do go back further.

To access this information, you will need to contact either your local law enforcement agency or county courthouse. Ensure that the applicant lives within the area in which you are searching or there will possibly no information on the candidate.

While the information that you need to supply to conduct the search varies by area, you will need at minimum the full legal name of the possible employee. If the applicant has a common name, it is a good idea to provide the birth date as well. The average turnaround time for this report can vary based on how the report is submitted and the speed of processing for that county.

For example, in the state of North Carolina, you have two ways to obtain a background check. If you would like a certified background check, you would need to mail in a form with the applicant’s full name as well as the requestor’s information and a fee of twenty-five dollars to the Clerk of the Superior Court’s office for your specific county. To receive an uncertified background check, you can go to your local clerk’s office and access the information in person. These searches are free, but there is a nominal charge for printing.

State

If you would prefer to access a greater scope of information on your potential employee, you can run a statewide search. The searches again differ from state to state on what information is provided and needed along with the accuracy of the report depending greatly on the state’s policy on how counties report data. Fees can apply, which again fluctuate from state to state.

For the state of Washington, for example, under the Criminal Records Privacy Act, all conviction criminal history record information can be made public to anyone without restriction, which means employers in Washington have complete access to all criminal records. This information can include conviction information, arrests less than one year old with dispositions pending, and information regarding registered sex and kidnap offenders. Employers can also be privy to additional information such as arrest records that are closed to the public for a fee.

To search in Washington, you need only to know an applicant’s name, aliases and date of birth. If you can provide the sex and race, it is helpful but the information is not required. You can receive the information instantly through an online database or mail or fax in a written copy of a form, along with a minimum of a ten dollar fee, which can vary depending on what information you are looking for.

Federal

To gain a complete history on a potential employee, you would need to run a search at the federal level. These reports are the most comprehensive, but are the hardest to obtain. You will require a fingerprint to run, and, according to federal law, only the person who the report is about can request it except in cases of employment. Even then, there are very detailed guidelines about getting access to these reports, with state-specific statutes dictating whether you need to go through your state office or directly with the federal agency.

With such specifics needed for each type of pre-employment screening and such a large variance in requirements from area to area, it is worth the investment to enlist a background screening company to perform these checks on your behalf. Not only will these agencies know the specific channels for your state well, they will ensure all background screening is done in a legal and timely manner, making your hiring process that much smoother and productive.

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