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Is it Legal to Run a Background Check on Someone Without Telling Them?

It’s one of the most common questions out there when it comes to background checks: Is it legal to run one on a person without telling them? Or is it illegal to run a background check without the person’s express consent?  

Whether your company needs to run background checks on candidates while you’re narrowing down a list of candidates, or you’re a landlord who needs to screen tenants before handing over the keys, knowing the answers to these questions is vital.  

Is It Legal to Run a Background Check Without Consent?

In most cases, the answer is no – it is not legal to run a background check without telling someone about it first. There are particular instances in which it may be legal, depending on the locality, the type of check, and the local and state laws in place. But it’s really not worth risking. Run a background check without permission, and you run the risk of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which protects applicants’ rights throughout the hiring process. In virtually every case, it’s worth getting the person’s permission so you don’t end up on the wrong end of a class-action lawsuit.  

How Should You Get Consent?

According to the FCRA, getting written consent for a background check should be “clear and conspicuous” and should be performed separately from a candidate’s employment application. The authorization form needs to clearly state what kind of checks will be run, what identifying information will be required, and how the information gathered can be used in the employment decision. Applicants should be made aware that it’s within their rights to receive a copy of their report if they so choose. 

What If a Candidate Refuses?

Most candidates will agree to a background check without any issue. But if you run into the rare case that a candidate refuses to sign off on the check, what do you do? You cannot force a candidate to sign a form for background screening permission.  

You essentially have two choices: Move ahead with their candidacy or employment without performing a background check (this is not advisable) or take them out of the running. Just as they have the right to refuse, you as the employer have the right to terminate their candidacy. 

We Can Help With Background Checks 

Need help navigating the world of background checks? We can help. Contact Metrodata Services for all of your background screening needs. 

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