Skip to the main content.

4 min read

4 Types of Criminal Background Checks for Employment

Hiring new employees is more than a matter of trusting one’s intuition. Employers have a responsibility – a legal duty of care – to take reasonable measures to create a safe workplace and workforce. When hiring employees, the level of “care” required depends on the nature of the job and the risks associated with the roles and responsibilities the person will hold.

The use of criminal record checks for employment is one factor employers can use to ascertain whether an employee might bring an unacceptable level of risk into the workplace. As much as 80% of corporate America uses criminal background checks to help predict how an individual’s past might impact their safety and performance on the job.

When it comes to these criminal background checks there are 4 key types:

  1. Federal Criminal Records
  2. National Criminal Database Searches
  3. Statewide Criminal Records
  4. Local/County Records Searches

Which type(s) are best for your situation? Let’s take a look at each:

1. Federal Criminal Records Search

With a federal criminal background check, you’ll receive any reportable cases found in the Federal district that was selected to be searched. The result could be convictions relating to federal criminal, civil, and bankruptcy cases. You will ONLY receive information about federal records, many of which are “white collar” crimes. With a federal search, you will not find state or local-level criminal information.

When to Use Federal Criminal Records:

The best time to use a Federal criminal records search is when hiring for managerial, executive, and financial positions. Since federal records can reveal serious “white collar” crimes that could impact your hiring decisions for these high-trust positions, it pays to check here.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize the limitations of a federal search. Due to federal indices contain limited identifying information, it is important to use caution before jumping to the conclusion that a particular record is accurately matched to a subject. A reputable background screening firm will use an experienced researcher to search for additional identifiers in determining whether a potential record may be a match.

As with any employment background check, it’s important for employers to comply with rules and regulations related to the collection, dissemination, and use of criminal information throughout the employee selection process.

A federal criminal records search is just one component to a comprehensive criminal record search. As there is no overlap between a federal criminal records search and a state and local level criminal records search, we recommend that employers order a federal criminal records search in addition to local criminal records searches.

2. National Criminal Database Searches

National criminal database searches offer instant, inexpensive data, but do you get what you pay for? With a national criminal database check, you can cover a large majority of the more than 3,000 U.S. jurisdictions with a single search. This makes a criminal database highly useful in the employment screening process. The problem is, not all jurisdictions allow access to their data, and not every database is well managed to ensure accuracy and timeliness. Because of these constraints, there are very strict limitations on how an employer can and should use national database records.

Concerned CRAs, an organization founded in part to promote the appropriate use of national criminal database records, says that while these database searches can be a valuable source of information, they are too often used in an irresponsible manner.

Members of Concerned CRAs, including AccuSourceHR, believe that criminal records databases are valuable sources of information if they are used in a responsible manner. AccuSourceHR will only use the results of a national criminal database search as indicators of possible records. Prior to making any report to an employer about a criminal record from a database, we will verify the information directly with the reporting jurisdiction. This helps ensure that employers make decisions based on accurate and up-to-date information.

When to Use a National Criminal Database Search

In positions where a criminal background check is appropriate and relevant to the job, a national criminal database search can play an important role in casting a wider net by looking at potential records from more than 3,000 jurisdictions in the U.S. In this regard, a national criminal database search can provide useful “pointers” to guide specific local criminal searches.

3. State-Level Criminal Records Checks

Similar to national criminal database searches, state-level criminal records checks should be supplemented and verified by specific local jurisdiction searches as determined by activity uncovered in the statewide search. While statewide searches are useful in some situations, they can present serious limitations in others. A statewide criminal records search often does not reflect the current status of the local jurisdiction records.

Also, while jurisdictions are mandated to report to the statewide repository, in reality, the coverage and quality of these searches vary by state. Finally, and importantly, statewide data very often lacks disposition information so while you may find out about an arrest, the outcomes may not be found.

When to use a statewide criminal records search:

As with national records searches, a statewide search should be used to guide local level searches. It can be very useful as a pointer, but not as an authoritative source.

4. Local Criminal Background Checks

Local criminal background checks can be your best source of criminal information about job candidates and employees. Of course, like anything else, there are steps that must be taken to ensure quality, compliance, and accuracy. If you’re working with a third-party background screening company, find out if the company employs local-level researchers who understand the court structure for the state in which your local level search will take place and the authoritative source for each court. And find out about the quality control procedures they place on their research team.

When to use local criminal records:

Local criminal records searches should be conducted in any jurisdiction where your applicant or employee has resided. Typically, employers will take a 7-year address history and search those jurisdictions. In addition, employers will use a state or national database search to pinpoint any other possible criminal activity in jurisdictions other than previous residences. (“Vacation” criminals are more common than ever.)

Keep in mind, federal crimes are not found in local criminal records. So, even if your applicant has a clean criminal record at the local level, there may still be a serious criminal history on a federal records search. There is a good reason why a comprehensive look at an applicant’s past can only be achieved by searching multiple sources.

Do you have questions about your employment background screening program?

Our experts are here to help. Ask a background screening expert >