Can a Potential Employer Run a Background Check On You?

Can a Potential Employer Run a Background Check On You?

If you’re like many people looking for a new job, you’re surprised to learn that some employers want to run background checks on you. But is it legal for an employer to do a background check, with or without your consent, and do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy? This guide explains.


Potential employers can, in many cases, run background checks on job applicants. In fact, sometimes they’re legally required to do so (such as when a job involves working with children or is in a healthcare setting). Some types of checks require the employer to get your written permission – but sometimes, employers find other ways to get information on you.

Some of the most common information employers look for in background checks include a person’s driving record, criminal records and other court records, sex offender lists and even credit history. 

It is legal for employers to ask for background information on job candidates – but there are some restrictions when it comes to obtaining information on medical histories and genetic information. And even with the legal obtainment of background information, employers can’t use it against a job candidate for discriminatory reasons. In fact, employers cannot use the information that they get to deny equal employment opportunity.

Related: What are examples of age discrimination?

What Information Does an Employer Need Your Permission to Obtain?

Generally, employers have to get your permission to access your school transcripts, military transcripts or medical records. Employers also need permission if they use an outside agency to get information on you.

However, employers can, and do, search prospective employees’ names on Google to dig up information. Employers can do this without asking your permission, and they can use the information they find – as long as it’s not related to your membership in a protected class – in making a hiring decision. 

Related: 5 important independent contractor rights

Is it Legal for Employers to Look at Your Social Media Accounts?

Is it Legal for Employers to Look at Your Social Media Accounts?

It is legal for an employer to look at the publicly available information on your social media account. That means prospective employers may see your sexual orientation, family status, religion or other information that would ordinarily be off-limits for employers to ask about – and the employer would then have information it wouldn’t normally have.

Tip: Make sure all your social media accounts are locked down and private before you start applying for jobs. Additionally, you should make an attempt to clean up your profiles if anything on them could lead to an employer not hiring you.

Employers that uncover information on social media are not allowed to use that information in making an employment decision if the things they find denote your membership in a protected group. However, not all employers follow the law; some employers will still make employment decisions based on the information they find on your social media profile. 

Related: What are your legal rights when it comes to suing an employer?

Can an Employer Fire You for Off-Duty Conduct?

An employee’s off-duty conduct usually doesn’t have much to do with the employee’s job – but if it does impact the company, or if it could potentially impact the company, an employer would be within its rights to fire that individual. For example, if you work for a public agency and make racist posts on your social media accounts (which also list your employer), your employer may be able to fire you for your off-duty conduct. Likewise, if you’re engaged in criminal activity, your employer can fire you so that you don’t tarnish the company’s name.

Related: Can an employer fire you after you’ve been accused of harassment?

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About an Employer Checking Your Background?

If your prospective employer or current employer has done a background check on you without your consent, you may have legal recourse for the violation of your privacy. Call our office at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule a consultation with an attorney who may be able to help you now.

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