How Far Back Does a Background Check Go?

We get many questions regarding background check lookback periods, and like so many things in life, the answer is "it depends."

It can depend on the type of background check you're ordering, the state you're operating in, as well as other stipulations, like those dictated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Let's go over some of the more common types of background checks and the lookback periods for each.

Criminal Background Checks

  • County criminal check. This is a county-level court search for criminal convictions and reportable non-convictions associated with the applicant. The scope of search is 7 years.
  • State criminal check. This is a statewide search (obtained directly from a state police department or state repository) for criminal convictions and reportable non-convictions associated with the applicant. The scope of search is 7 years.
  • Federal criminal check. This is a nationwide search for crimes prosecuted against the applicant at the federal level, in any U.S. state or territory, which includes among other things, tax evasion, bank robbery, kidnapping, and/or counterfeiting. The scope of search is 7 years.

You'll see a trend here—seven years—which many people commonly refer to as the 7-year lookback rule. Bottom line: the default scope for a criminal history search is 7 years. Extended scope searches (10-year, full criminal history) can be supported at an additional cost to the client, and to the extent permitted by applicable law.

Drug Testing

When it comes to employment drug testing, the lookback period varies based on the specimen type (e.g., saliva, urine, hair).

  • With urine, the lookback period is typically within that same week. In some cases—for example, if the person is a chronic marijuana user—the lookback period with a urine test might go back as far as two or three weeks.
  • In the case of hair testing, the lookback period is 90 days (and in some cases, even longer). The hair test won't indicate immediate drug use, however, but rather a pattern of recurring drug use.
  • Oral fluid, by contrast, has a similar lookback window to urine, but it also provides even more immediacy than urine. Oral fluid testing can detect certain drugs in as little as 30-60 minutes after ingestion.

Employment & Education Verifications

The FTC has issued advisory opinions stating that employment verifications are considered "neutral." Since the information being reported is not "adverse," there is NO 7-year limitation on reporting discrepancies in employment history.

Even if the employment termination date is more than 7 years ago, consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) can report discrepant employment dates and job titles, or the complete lack of verification of the employment (i.e., a statement from the so-called prior employer that the individual never worked for their company).

The same goes for education verifications. Since verifying employment history and education is often critical in order to determine whether a candidate is qualified to do the job, employers should make sure they understand whether their screening provider is unnecessarily withholding such discrepant results from the background check when the dates and information being verified are older than seven years.

MVR Background Checks

For MVR checks, the lookback period varies by state. Most states fall within a 3- to 7-year lookback period (three years is the most common).

Social Media Background Checks

Similar to criminal checks, the lookback period for social media screening is seven years.

Got questions about background check lookback periods? We're always happy to help!

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Danielle Deutsch

Posted by Danielle Deutsch

Danielle is the Senior Digital Marketing Coordinator at Good Egg & Foley Services. In her spare time you can find her either visiting an aquarium, enjoying a Broadway show or competing in a Crossfit competition.

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