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On March 10, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) co-published two documents on the use of employment background checks:  "Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know" and "Background Checks: What Job Applicants and Employees Should Know."  

In the joint press release, the EEOC and FTC emphasized that “employers need written permission from job applicants before getting background reports about them from companies in the business of compiling background information.  Furthermore, they reaffirm that it is illegal to discriminate based on a person's race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information, including family medical history, when requesting or using background information for employment, regardless of where the information was obtained. 

“At the same time, the agencies want job applicants to know that it is not illegal for potential employers to ask about their background, as long as the employer does not unlawfully discriminate.  However, when people are turned down for a job or denied a promotion based on information in their background reports, they have the right to review the reports for accuracy.”  
The document on Background Checks: What Employers Need to Know includes information for employers on obtaining background information; using background information; and disposing of background information.

The document on Background Checks:  What Job Applicants and Employees Should Know includes information for applicants and employees on background questions an employer may ask; background reports; if an employer finds negative background information; and where to go for help.  

Employers are encouraged to speak with counsel regarding the use of employment background checks. 

Additional resources:

EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions 

Questions and Answers about the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance