What is a Consumer Report for Employment?

To say that your life is an open book may be pretty close to the truth in this information age, at least when it comes to applying for a job. While you may have nothing to hide, it can still be unnerving when a prospective employer tells you that you must submit to a background check before you can officially be hired. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) refers to a prehire screening as a “consumer report.”


The terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, have led to increased security and more thorough background checks by employers. The easy access to volumes of data available on the Internet may also be contributing to the surge in employment screening. Employers defend these optional background checks as cautionary measures that are necessary to preserve security and safety in the workplace. Employees and applicants may think that drudging up information that is not pertinent to the job description is unfair.

Mandatory Checks

Federal and state laws mandate that consumer report screenings be conducted for certain jobs. Nearly every state requires that individuals applying for positions in which they will be working with children, the elderly or the disabled submit to criminal background checks. Many state and federal government job applicants may undergo even greater scrutiny when a security clearance is required.


The information gathered for employment background checks can range from simply verifying a Social Security number to interviewing your neighbors as character references. A prospective employer will typically check credit reports, arrest and incarceration records and your medical, military and educational history.


Certain information is off limits on a consumer report. Data that should not be accessible to your future employer include a bankruptcy that’s over 10 years old. Seven year reporting limitations apply to civil suits, civil judgments, records of arrest, paid tax liens and accounts turned over to collection agencies; however, these restrictions do not apply for jobs that will pay an annual salary of $75,000 or more.


Companies that conduct employee background checks can range from conventional private investigators to online data brokers and to companies that are dedicated solely to employment screenings. The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) provides a list of these companies (see References). The NAPBS says it was founded in 2003 to promote ethical business practices and compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.