California Criminal Background Check Law

Nick Fishman


California Background Check Laws – Summary

There is some important information that employers need to know about performing employment background checks in California. It’s important to understand that comparatively speaking, relevant screening laws tend to favor job seekers over employers. This is because California employers are limited in what information they can use and how they use it in their hiring decisions.

Here are a few components employers should understand about California background check law:

  • California limits background checks to convictions within the last seven years for most jobs. Law enforcement, daycare, education and other industries serving vulnerable portions of the population may have different rules that apply.
  • The so-called “national criminal database” run by commercial enterprises is of little use in California. This is because the state does not allow municipalities to contribute to these databases.
  • California has laws that restrict an employer’s ability to seek or inquire about certain types of criminal records which include, but are not limited to, arrests that do not lead to conviction, or other alternative dispositions such as post-trial diversion sentences.
  • California has a law that restricts the use of credit reports in the hiring process.
  • The state of California has a law which legalizes medical marijuana.
  • The state of California restricts or limits private employers from accessing and requesting employee/candidate log in information for personal social media accounts.

Employer Obligations

In order to run a background check on a perspective employee, an employer must have their consent. In addition to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), California has consumer protection laws that require additional steps in the background screening process which include, but are not limited to, a special checkbox and notice on the applicant disclosure to give job applicants and employees an opportunity to request a copy of an investigative consumer report or consumer credit report at no charge.

This prevents employers from running a background check without notifying the employee, and never telling them why an offer was not extended. Employers are required to share the results. If the background check is the reason an offer is not extended the employer must say so.

More Information on Arrests and Convictions

California has a statewide “Ban-the-Box” law for public employers which precludes them from asking if a person has been convicted of a crime on their job application. There are also a number of city and county “Ban-the-Box” laws which apply to both public and private employers.

One question about California criminal background checks that consistently comes up is, when does the clock start on the seven year count? It’s not yet 100% clear exactly what the rule is here, but based on an amicus brief filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), they believe that the clock starts when the adverse information is first filed or entered into record.

California employers need to make sure they understand and stay within these laws and guidelines as they conduct criminal background checks on their employees.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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