California Background Check General Requirements

Performing a background check can be an effective way to paint a comprehensive picture of one’s history through public records. In the state of California, having access to public records is considered a statutory right under California’s Public Records Act (CPRA). Under CPRA, any person, corporation, or other entity may obtain public records without explaining intent. There is an exception to this rule: if you’re searching for the address of an individual who has been arrested or has been the victim of a crime, you’ll need to explain the purpose of your request in order to access this information.

While public records may be readily accessible, California background checks are tightly regulated by both federal and state laws. Background check requesters are subject to a number of laws that determine what information appears in a background check report, particularly when it comes to employment and criminal, arrest, and jail records.

Just like other states, there are legal restrictions on how employers, landlords, and others can use the information that may be found in a California background check. Any within one of the scenarios listed above is typically required to obtain background checks through the state of California or through FCRA (see below)-approved third-party services.

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FCRA, EEOC, and Ban-the-Box

Since 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (FCRA) has required that, in certain contexts such as employment, FCRA-approved third-party services must be used to conduct background checks (please note: the website in which this article appears is specifically NOT FCRA-accredited or authorized as a credit reporting agency permissible for use to verify employment background checks, tenant consideration and other contexts). FCRA establishes additional restrictions and regulations, including:

  • Employers must obtain written consent from a prospective employee prior to requesting a background check on the individual.
  • Information found in a background check must be kept confidential.
  • Only records of paid tax liens, civil suits, civil judgments, and arrest (as opposed to conviction) records in the 7 years prior to the background check can be included in the report (however, non-FCRA accredited websites, such as this one, may theoretically contain information beyond that time span).

In addition to FCRA, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) provides guidelines and fair hiring laws for employers in order to prevent discrimination based on race, creed, criminal record, or other at any point in the employment process.

Along with the EEOC, the California Fair Employment & Housing Council has also issued guidance for employers on how to avoid discriminating against applicants with criminal records when making hiring decisions. For example, the employer may only consider offenses related to the duties of the position as a reason to eliminate a candidate from consideration. If the candidate is not hired because of information in their background check, the employer must notify them and explain this decision.

The State of California has established state-wide Ban-the-Box policies for all public sector companies, effective since January 1, 2018. The Ban-the-Box policy mandates that employers of both public and private sector companies with more than 5 employees may only inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history after the candidate has proven that he or she is capable of fulfilling the duties of the position and is given a conditional offer of employment. Similar Ban-the-Box policies have been established in individual jurisdictions (counties and cities) and may also apply to both public and private companies.

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