Employers in North Carolina, as in other states, use background checks to investigate the criminal history of potential, as well as current, employees. Although background checks are permitted under both state and federal law, employers must first get your permission to conduct one and can't use the information to discriminate against you because of your race, religion or other protected status.
Background Checks Reveal Arrests and Convictions
A background check is a review of your criminal history, including arrests and convictions. Typically, your name and fingerprints are forwarded to the State Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies. The SBI searches its database for any criminal history you may have in the state, while the FBI conducts a nationwide search. Potential employers may also use third-party vendors to conduct a criminal background search.
Information Can't Be Used to Discriminate
In addition to conducting a background check, a potential employer can question you about it. However, he can't discriminate against you on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, medical history, genetic information, or age in uncovering or using the information. An employer must treat everyone equally. This means that he can't ask you about your criminal history and not ask other applicants or employees. He also can't ask you to divulge more background information than others. An employer also can't refuse to hire you, or fire you, for having a criminal record, if he doesn't take the same action with others with similar criminal histories.
Policies Can't Target Certain Groups
Even if an employer treats you like everyone else, his actions may still be discriminatory if the policy disproportionately affects certain people negatively, such as African Americans or women, and you're a member of that group. However, it's not enough for a policy to have a disparate impact on a particular group. It also must be a faulty indicator of whether an employee is reliable, safe or responsible. The crime must be relevant to the job requirements.
North Carolina Laws Further Limit Background Checks
If all you have for a criminal record is an arrest, it alone is not sufficient grounds to reject or fire you from employment under the law. However, the circumstances surrounding the arrest are fair game, so an employer can reject or fire you after inquiring into what led to your arrest in the first place. If you have an arrest, charge or conviction that was expunged, or removed, from your record, you are not required to disclose this information under state law -- and employers are prohibited from asking about expunged records. A few local jurisdictions in North Carolina even prohibit employers from asking about criminal records altogether, or only permit background checks when a potential hire is in the last stretch of the hiring process.
- North Carolina Department of Public Safety: Background Checks - Frequently Asked Questions
- North Carolina Department of Public Safety: Background Checks
- North Carolina Court System: Obtain a Single Background Check
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: FBI Identity History Summary Checks for Employment and Licensing
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Background Checks - What Job Applicants and Employees Should Know
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Background Checks - What Employers Need to Know
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Pre-Employment Inquiries and Arrest & Conviction
- U.S. News and World Report: Data Show Racial Disparity in Crack Sentencing
- Human Rights Watch: Crack Cocaine Ruling a Victory for Rights
- Nolo: Employer Use of Arrest and Conviction Records in North Carolina
- Photo Credit Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images
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