The Significance of Seven Years in Background Screening
While employers are evaluating background screening services or making policy decisions about employment background checks, there are multiple references to “seven years.” This can create confusion for employers using background checks in hiring, as not all background checks are created equal. Depending on the context, this common window of time may refer to:
- Seven Years of Address History
- Seven-Year Criminal Record Search Scope
- Seven-Year Reporting Limit Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
Let’s review what each example entails and what employers should consider in each use case when building their employment screening program.
Seven Years of Address History
As a standard practice, employers tend to ask for seven years of an applicant’s address history in order to screen for criminal records in those jurisdictions where an applicant has lived, worked, or been educated in the last seven years. Criminal history is most likely to be found where a person resides or has resided. However, in some regulated industries, employers may be required to conduct criminal records searches based on previous address history that extends beyond seven years. Therefore, employers should review both industry- and job-specific requirements when updating their screening policy.
Seven-Year Criminal Record Search Scope
When a criminal record search is conducted, the search scope is typically seven years, but is ultimately determined by what the court allows. Some courts allow access to records as far back as records are kept. But due to the burdens and cost of record management and retention, and the often manual nature of archiving older records, courts generally do limit the search scope of record searches.
Sometimes a fee is imposed beyond the standard parameters of a seven year scope, and employers may need to approve additional fees if the court allows for an expanded search, for instance a ten year scope.
Seven-Year Reporting Limit Under the FCRA
Perhaps the main driver of the seven-year timeframe is the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which regulates the use of employment background checks. Section 605 of the FCRA limits Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs), such as background screening companies, from including in consumer reports items of adverse information older than seven years. However, this restriction does not include criminal conviction records. Therefore, convictions can be reported without limitation, no matter the age of the record. The reporting limit does include non-convictions, which can only be reported for seven years.
While the FCRA is a federal regulation, certain states such as California, for example, may have narrower limitations. Employers, therefore, should also consider both state and local legislation when updating their screening policies.
Review Your Background Screening Program
When employers see a mention of “seven years,” they should consider if it is in reference to address history, criminal records, or reporting adverse information. There are different guidelines or best practices to consider surrounding each, including regulations from the FCRA, state and local ordinances, and possible limitations by the courts.