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1.800. 973. 1177

SKILL SHARPENER

Background Checks for Legal Government Jobs [by Rachel Daniel] Law Crossing allows you to search among thousands of open positions in many branches of government, including those at the federal, state, and local levels. From a position with the Department of Justice to an internship with the U.S. Navy, we have you well covered. This week, we’ll examine what you might expect should you decide to pursue one of these governmental jobs, including subjecting yourself to a possible background check.

One of the main concerns for attorneys

Criminal records

“creativity” into your resume by padding it, a

pursuing governmental work is the pos-

Incarceration records

background check is not the place for these

sibility of the background check. In general,

Medical records

things. A hiring director at a law firm may

most of us-we hope-have no deep dark

Psychological exam records

not analyze your resume word-for-word for

secrets that might be brought to light during

Drug test records

accuracy, but a government agent will do ex-

these checks. However, it’s admittedly a bit

Military records

actly that with your paperwork. So be honest

intimidating to know that some government

Vehicle registration

and forthcoming.

agency is out there digging up information on

Property ownership & liens

you. Here we’ll try to debunk and demystify

Sex offender lists

Of course, there are federal and state laws

the elements of a governmental background

State licensing board records

and regulations addressing the issue of what

check, give you particulars on what you might

Employment records

you’re expected to disclose or not. The feder-

expect, and how to prepare yourself…and

Employment references

al Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets stan-

your acquaintances.

Character references

dards for employment checks. One caveat

Family member interviews

in this law is that it has a few loopholes. For

Background checks have been standard

Acquaintance interviews

example, the FCRA only applies to outside

procedures for many government positions

Neighbor interviews

investigation companies that specialize in

throughout the years. However, since the

Workers’ Compensation records

employment screening. So, if the investiga-

terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, and

tion is completed by government-employed

other subsequent events, these background

It can indeed seem not just comprehensive,

investigators, all bets are off. State laws may

investigations have become much more

but overwhelming as well. This process may

be more stringent, filling in these loopholes

particular and thorough. Below is a basic list

prove to be an uncomfortable, time-consum-

and providing for additional protections. If

of what might be investigated. Of course, the

ing, and tedious adventure. The scary part

you hope to gain state government employ-

background check and the personal informa-

is that for many governmental jobs in the

ment (rather than federal), check your state’s

tion being researched may vary dramatically,

legal field, the background check isn’t even

employment screening law and regulations.

depending on the agency you are applying to,

the first step. Before you even get to that

as well as the security distinction attached

point, you yourself must complete a massive

If you’re applying for a position that is some-

to your position. For example, a position in

amount of paperwork before the investiga-

how protected by the FCRA, then time limits

the State Department may require a more

tion is even initiated. This means you must

are attached to what is reportable.

intense background investigation, as opposed

compile every aspect of your life and type it

to a district attorney position, because you

neatly into a government form.

may be dealing with classified government

After seven years, the following cannot be reported:

documents and security issues. We will dis-

Government investigators are given your

cuss this a little later.

information, and they initiate the check, ana-

• Civil suits

lyzing all of your answers and your disclo-

• Civil judgments

Bankruptcy

sures…plus the things you did not disclose.

• Records of arrest

Credit reports

So, complete the applications with care.

• Tax liens

Driving records

Any inaccuracies in your paperwork could

• Accounts sent to collection agencies

Education records

cast a shadow over your character and your

• Negative information

Court records

chances of being hired. Unlike putting some

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1. 800. 973.1177

SKILL SHARPENER

ment agency.

conviction to your record.

If you are being screened for a high-risk

Of course, there are loopholes here as well.

job that requires a security clearance (the

The FCRA does not apply to employers who

State Department’s Foreign Service, for

complete in-house background investiga-

example), then you may undergo a more

tions. So you can receive your file from a

Under the FCRA, criminal convictions are

rigorous background check. The Foreign

consumer-reporting agency, but you may

reportable indefinitely. Many states set limits

Service’s background check contains three

not be able to retrieve your record from the

on former criminal convictions, making them

segments, including: the initial background

employer. Further, if the employer claims

unreportable after seven or 10 years. Thus,

check, medical clearance, and psychological

that you were not hired because the pool of

again, it is important to check with your

clearance. This check can take up to a year to

applicants was extraordinary and they made

state’s employment laws and regulations to

complete because it is so thorough and com-

a decision to hire another equally qualified

be sure.

prehensive. Further, employers requiring se-

applicant, then the employer is not required

curity clearances may want to interview your

to comply with the federal notice require-

One intricacy is that employers can ask you

family, friends, current or past co-workers,

ments.

to provide the above information. Employ-

associates, supervisors, neighbors, acquain-

ment applications may ask you if you have

tances, and even previous classmates.

After ten years, the following cannot be reported: • Bankruptcies

If the employer falls under the FCRA, then they must follow certain reporting require-

ever been involved in a civil matter or if you have ever been convicted of any crime. Under

At first glance, this all may appear to be

ments. If they decide to not hire you based

federal law, they are permitted to ask these

overly comprehensive, but there are reasons

upon your background check and if they use

questions. The FCRA only states that public

for such careful attention to detail. Employ-

an outside agency to complete the investiga-

reporting agencies are not permitted to

ment investigators know that you will provide

tion, then they must send you a pre-adverse

supply employers with this information. But

them with references that will sing your

action notice, as well as an adverse action

just because they ask does not mean that you

praises. No one is going to provide a refer-

notice, stating your rights.

must supply the information. If you have a tax

ence who has negative comments. Because

lien from 15 years ago, for example, you may

of the nature of these heightened security

Background checks can be tedious, time-

not want to report that--so think before you

positions, the employer wants to know if

consuming, and a generally frustrating expe-

write. Take your time. Review the applicable

there is any questionable conduct in your

rience, but if you understand the parameters

law. You do not want to cast any doubt over

past, especially for a legal position.

of what can and what cannot be disclosed,

your suitability for employment.

But don’t stress over one minor imperfection

then the process may prove to be much

in your record. Your records are taken as a

easier. Take your time filling out the required

Some information is completely off limits.

whole. Just because you made some kind of

paperwork and disclosures. Stay calm; a

Certain personal records are confidential,

mistake years ago does not mean you are

minor mistake may not mean you will not get

and, per the FCRA, your future employers

automatically disqualified. No one is perfect,

the job. And above all, tell the truth. This is

must obtain your permission before they can

and employers realize this. Of course, the

just a small step that you must take before

access these records. These confidential

gravity of the mistake is taken into consider-

you land that government job.

records include: educational, medical, and

ation, but if your record is otherwise clean,

military service records.

then you should be fine.

There are also certain issues that an employ-

What if you think your record is perfect, but

ment screening should not address or take

you were denied employment? Under the

into account. These issues include: disabili-

FCRA, you can request a copy of your file. In

ties, age, race, gender, and marital status. If

this computer-technology age, it is impor-

you feel that the employer is trying to obtain

tant to realize that mistakes are made that

restricted information, you can reference the

can detrimentally affect your livelihood. For

Americans with Disabilities Act or contact the

example, you may find that you have been

federal Employment Opportunity Commis-

an unknowing victim of identity theft, or a

sion, as well as your local state fair employ-

computer glitch may have added a criminal

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Background Checks for Legal Government Jobs  

Article by Rachel Daniel on Law Crossing that allow searching open positions in branches of government at federal, state and local levels, e...

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