How Long do Background Checks Take?

In a perfect world, we'd be able to complete all employment background checks within two to four business days. But we all know this world is far from perfect. There are many reasons for delays—and most are beyond a background check vendor's control. Let's look at some of the most common reasons.

Click here for 10 questions to ask when evaluating background screening vendors.

Are there any drug/physicals/medical components running as part of the order?

Many applicants wait until the last possible minute to take their drug test or go in for their health screening. This delay can tack on another couple of days. (Note: if applicants drag their feet, it's not because they're necessarily hiding anything, either. Human beings are notorious procrastinators for many reasons.)

If the initial lab report returns a test result as non-negative, the Medical Review Officer (MRO) team contacts the donor to attempt to verify the result. If the non-negative result can be attributed to a prescribed medication, it can take several days for the applicant to provide the requisite information for the MRO to review the result, determine that the applicant is medically cleared, and report the result as negative/pass.

Alternatively, if the MRO team is unable to contact the donor to verify a non-negative result, standard procedure is to wait a specified number of days following multiple failed attempts before reporting the result as a non-contact positive. All of this takes time.

Are there technology limitations at the county level and/or issues with the courts?

Technologically speaking, some counties still operate in the Stone Age. They don't have online dockets, or they require faxed requests or even snail mail requests (yes, really), which can slow down the process of obtaining criminal history information considerably. And counties can be inconsistent, even within the same state. One county might have great technology while another county—in the exact same state—might still be using paper and fax machines.

As for the courts, some have case limits (e.g., a court runner can only get info on five individuals at a time), and some are incredibly difficult to work with. For example, New York courts are famous for bouncing you from one court to another before you can confirm case information. Some court clerks need to look up the physical documents, and not all clerks are inclined to cooperate. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

Is there missing information?

Sometimes the people on the ground, such as court runners, might bring back incomplete information, so our quality control (QC) team will need to follow up by calling the court clerks. If the court does not disclose personal identifying information (PII) over the phone, the QC team might need to fax a request or even get a money order and mail out a request for additional information. Sending/waiting for faxes and snail mail can add days to the process.

Did the applicant provide incorrect or incomplete info?

If an applicant provides incomplete PII, we'll need to reach out and fill in the blanks. This can take time because not everyone answers the phone or quickly returns calls or emails.

If the applicant provided incorrect PII, this can take even longer. For example, if an applicant provides the wrong date of birth or the wrong name, the social trace will come back as unable to validate or it'll come back with no results. The account manager will need to reach out to the applicant to verify the information. If the applicant did indeed make a mistake—maybe they put 1994 for the year of birth instead of 1995—we have to reorder the services that have a high probability of returning flawed results when incorrect PII is provided, like criminal history and sex offender registry searches. So that can cause further delays.

Is the applicant under age?

Before we can proceed with a background check for an underage applicant, i.e., someone under the age of 18, we need a parental consent form. If the permission form isn't provided when the order is placed, we'll spend time tracking down the applicant to get the form signed by a parent or guardian. Teenagers often don't understand the urgency of this request, so this process can take many days.

Is an "act of God" at play?

Hurricanes, blizzards, floods—courts aren't immune to so-called "acts of God," and, as a result, they can experience lengthy delays due to power outages and other infrastructure challenges resulting from severe weather and natural disasters.

And once those systems go down, everything is backlogged. When the courts reopen, they will work through the backlog based on a first-come-first-served basis. In other words, if a court is closed due to a snowstorm, and your search requests were submitted on the day the snow began to fly, those requests would be processed on the day the court reopens. If your requests were submitted two or three days into the storm, those will sit in queue and be processed two or three days after the court reopens.

It's also worth noting that when courts update their platforms, their phone systems may be down, which can also cause delays.

Does the applicant have a common name and no middle name?

Some searches, such as DOJ sex offender searches or national federal criminal searches, require the first and last name to initiate the search, but a common name might return numerous results. And sometimes the date of birth is not enough to rule it a match. So it will take longer to process because we want to be accurate. We have to pursue additional identifiers, such as a middle initial, SSN, current or former address, driver's license number (and we might need to call the court to obtain those identifiers). Or the counties will bring back multiple possible matches and we have to sort through who's who and if they are actually our applicant. Again, all of this takes time.

Is the verification process running into snags?

Not all individuals who have been listed as a reference answer their phone or return messages. Sometimes the applicant provides a wrong phone number for a reference. Or the applicant will list a general company number for professional references, not the direct extension, so we have to spend extra time chasing down the person we need to speak with. Occasionally, employers themselves are non-responsive when we contact them to obtain an employment verification.

Remember, accuracy should always trump turnaround time.

We know HR departments are under enormous pressure to fill seats. After all, an empty seat means lost productivity. But filling a seat quickly, only to have it empty again in six months due to a fast, but poorly executed background check will end up costing the organization much more in the long run, as this investigative report reveals.

Giving your provider enough time to thoroughly dig into a candidate's background and verify the results means you'll have accurate information to make the most educated hiring decisions for your company.

Looking for a provider to help reduce your turnaround time? Learn more about Good Egg's approach to background checks.

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Paulina Kula

Posted by Paulina Kula

Paulina is a Criminal Research Specialist at Good Egg. She graduated from St. John’s University with a Masters in Homeland Security/Criminal Justice, and is an animal lover.

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