Your Guide to Reliable Employment Background Checks in California

September 22, 2023

When it comes to landing that dream job or finding the ideal candidate for your company, understanding the ins and outs of employment background checks in California can make all the difference.

In this article, we will dive deep into employment background checks in California, understanding the ins and outs of the process, regulations, and benefits, whether you are an employer or a job seeker.

Understanding Employment Background Checks

Employment background checks in California involve examining an individual's history and verifying their qualifications, criminal records, and more. This process helps employers evaluate candidates' suitability for a specific role within their organization.

What information is checked?

Before diving into specifics, it's worth noting that a background check aims to provide a complete, multi-dimensional profile of a potential employee, thus allowing the employer to make an informed hiring decision.

  • Criminal Records: The objective here is to uncover any past criminal activities that could be a concern in the workplace or to other employees.
  • Education Verification: Verification of academic credentials ensures that the candidate has the required skill set and knowledge base for the job in question.
  • Employment History: Past work experience helps gauge a candidate's suitability for the position and verifies the accuracy of their resume.
  • Reference Checks: Contacting references provides insights into a candidate's work ethic, interpersonal skills, and overall suitability.
  • Credit History (if applicable): For certain roles, credit history might be evaluated to assess financial responsibility and potential risks.

The Legal Landscape in California

Background checks are subject to stringent rules in California to guarantee fair hiring practices. The state is regulated primarily by two key pieces of legislation: the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Fair Chance Act.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)

According to the CCPA, job applicants have the entitlement to know what information will be gathered during the background check. Employers are required to disclose the specific types of personal data they will collect, as well as the reason for doing so.

The Fair Chance Act

The Fair Chance Act, popularly known as "Ban the Box," prevents businesses from asking about applicants' criminal backgrounds on job applications. Instead, only after a job offer is made, can a background check be completed which gives people with criminal records a fair opportunity.

Background checks are a complicated but necessary part of the hiring process in the state of California. They serve not only as a means for employers to verify applicant information but also function within a legal framework designed to protect individual rights.

a person studying a document

Benefits of Employment Background Checks

There are many reasons why it is common practice to do background checks on potential new hires; it's a win-win situation for those doing the checks and those seeking employment. Here is why:

For Employers:

  • Risk Mitigation: Conducting background checks enables employers to assess and prevent potential hiring risks. This can lead to fewer legal complications and workplace incidents in the future.
  • Enhanced Quality of Hires: By ensuring candidates are thoroughly vetted, employers can be more confident in hiring individuals whose qualifications and skills match the job requirements.
  • Maintaining Company Reputation: Well-informed hiring decisions based on comprehensive background checks can bolster a company's reputation, making it more trustworthy in the eyes of clients, partners, and the public.

For Job Seekers:

  • Fair Evaluation: Individuals with a criminal record are given a fair chance to present their qualifications before their criminal history is considered.
  • Transparency: Background checks ensure that all candidates are evaluated based on accurate information, fostering a more equitable hiring process.
  • Clear Expectations: Conducting background checks on potential employees indicates that your organization takes hiring responsibilities seriously and operates with professionalism.

Credibility between potential employers and employees can be established with the use of background checks. All parties involved in the recruiting process benefit from a transparent, honest, and well-versed environment.

The Employment Background Check Process

The employment background check is an essential phase in the recruiting process, particularly in California, where certain regulatory rules must be followed. Here's an overview of the typical steps involved:

Consent and Disclosure

Before conducting a background check, companies must get written agreement from applicants to specify the information collected and its purpose.

Information Gathering

Basic information, such as the applicant's personal details, work history, and character references, is gathered from the application.

Background Check

With the collected data, employers conduct a comprehensive background investigation. This may include checks on criminal records, financial credit history, and additional areas as relevant.

Regulatory Compliance

During this process, employers are obligated to comply with legal frameworks such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Fair Chance Act.

Evaluation and Decision

After the background check has been conducted, the employer scrutinizes the data to assess whether the applicant is a suitable fit for the job.

Employers in California may employ the aforementioned steps as a systematic guide to guarantee that the process of conducting background checks is extensive and in accordance with state regulations.

image of a hand using a magnifying glass

Best Practices for Conducting Background Checks

While doing a background check is standard in the hiring process, it’s not without legal and ethical responsibilities. What follows is a reminder checklist of sorts, both of things to do and avoid.


Get Written Consent: Always get written permission from the candidate before running a background check. It's mandated by law.

Maintain Consistency: Use the same background check process for all candidates applying for identical roles to avoid appearing biased.

Follow the Fair Chance Act: When considering criminal history, adhere to the Fair Chance Act to assess the relevance of any offenses.

Keep It Confidential: Limit the sharing of background check information to only those in your organization who really need to know.

Pre-Adverse Action: If not hiring due to a background check, give the candidate a report copy and a pre-adverse action notice first.

Know State Rules: Keep current with state-specific laws regarding background checks, particularly if you're in California.


Omit Written Consent: Skipping this step can create legal issues.

Engage in Discrimination: Never use background check data to discriminate by race, nationality, gender, etc.

Overlook the Seven-Year Rule: In California, most roles do not allow you to consider criminal convictions older than seven years.

Make Hasty Decisions: Avoid immediately ruling out a candidate because they have a criminal record. Use the Fair Chance Act guidelines to assess the situation properly.

Fail to Inform the Candidate: If adverse action is taken based on the background check, inform the candidate and allow time for a response.

Neglect the CCPA: Ignoring the California Consumer Privacy Act by not allowing the candidate to request their background check information can result in legal consequences.

If you stick to these guidelines, you can be assured that the background checks you run will be completely legal and ethical, protecting your business and the people you are considering for employment.

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In the dynamic landscape of employment, making well-informed decisions is vital. Employment background checks in California provide valuable insights into candidates' backgrounds, ensuring employers can make choices that benefit both their companies and their workforce.


Is it mandatory for employers in California to conduct background checks?

Employers in California are not legally required to perform background checks. However, many choose to do so to maintain a qualified and safe workforce.

Can a criminal record automatically disqualify a candidate in California?

California law, specifically the Fair Chance Act, disallows automatic disqualification of job candidates due to criminal history. Employers are required to weigh the nature and relevance of the offense in relation to the job.

How far back can employers check a candidate's criminal history?

In most cases, employers in California can only consider criminal convictions that occurred within the past seven years, as per the California Labor Code.

Can job applicants request a copy of their background check report?

Yes, under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), job applicants have the right to ask for a copy of the data collected during the background check.


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