Guide to Tennessee State Background Checks

Danielle Hubein
July 10, 2023
5 min read

Background checks in Tennessee can be used by employers to provide insight into a candidate’s history – including criminal records, motor vehicle report, past employers, and education. While Tennessee background checks can help companies make more informed hiring decisions, understanding federal, state, and local fair hiring laws can be complex. Here is what employers need to know about how to conduct a Tennessee state background check.

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What is a Tennessee background check?

A Tennessee background check for employment provides information about a candidate’s history by searching public records, databases, and other sources of information. Pre-employment background checks can be used to help hiring managers verify information on an application or resume, such as work or education history, as well as reveal information about criminal records or drug use.

Not only can employers use pre-employment background screenings to determine if a candidate is qualified for a position, but a state of Tennessee background check may also assist in protecting an organization against potential legal issues, mitigating risk, and creating a safer workplace. While not all Tennessee employers require background checks, some industries in Tennessee are mandated to screen certain candidates, like those working in law enforcement or childcare.

Here is a closer look at some of the common types of background checks in Tennessee:

  • Criminal background checks search a candidate’s criminal record to reveal arrests, convictions, incarcerations, and both current and past arrest warrants. This search can be conducted directly through the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) or by partnering with a qualified background check provider, like Checkr.
  • A driving record check searches a candidate’s Tennessee driving records, which are maintained by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, and include license class and status, traffic violations, accidents, and vehicle-related convictions.
  • Education verification validates a candidate's academic history, including schools attended, dates of graduation, and degrees earned.
  • Credit checks search a candidate’s credit history and reveal financial information such as payment history, accounts in collections, and bankruptcies. This type of check is often used for candidates that will have financial responsibility on the job.
  • Employment verification validates a candidate’s job history, including past employers, length of employment, and positions held.
  • Civil searches look into a candidate’s civil court records and can reveal a range of non-criminal information, including restraining orders, lawsuits, liens, and judgements.
  • Drug testing screen for certain illicit substances and commonly abused prescription medications. Pre-employment drug tests can help employers comply with their company’s drug policy and industry regulations and create a safer work environment.

How long does a background check take in Tennessee?

There are many factors that can affect how long a state of Tennessee background check takes in Tennessee. Timelines vary widely depending on the type of screening needed and if the employer is conducting the search directly or partnering with a consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr. For example, Tennessee motor vehicle records requested by mail can take up to 2 weeks to receive, while digital records are quicker to process.

Outsourcing background checks to a third party, like Checkr, can help human resources teams stay compliant with federal, state, and local hiring laws while also streamlining the background check process. Checkr provides faster turnaround times, more accurate results, and easy-to-use tools like Checkr ETA, which provides candidates with transparent, real-time updates every step of the way.

How far back does a Tennessee background check go?

Employers that choose to partner with a CRA, like Checkr, are required by federal law to adhere to the regulations in the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which limits how far back a Tennessee background check can go, with some exceptions. The FCRA restricts non-conviction information reported by a CRA to a 7-year lookback period which includes civil judgments, tax liens, and most credit report information. It excludes bankruptcies, which may be reported for up to 10 years and criminal convictions, which may be reported indefinitely. If a candidate’s expected salary is $75,000 or higher, these limitations may not apply.

When employers conduct background checks directly, they may not be subject to the same lookback limits imposed by the FCRA. However, certain types of records may only go back so far. For example, Tennessee motor vehicle records are limited to 3 or 10 years, depending on the type of driving history ordered.

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Tennessee background check laws

There is currently one statewide Ban the Box law that affects Tennessee criminal background checks, as well as several fair hiring laws. In addition, local Ban the Box laws apply in certain counties and cities. To reduce potential legal liability, organizations may wish to stay compliant with the strictest Tennessee background check requirements during the hiring process.

Ban the Box

Summary: Under Senate Bill 2440, public sector employers may not ask candidates about their criminal history on an initial job application, except for roles for which a Tennessee criminal background check is required by law. Where a Tennessee criminal background check is required by law, or a candidate can be disqualified if they have committed an offense under federal or state law, public sector employers must provide candidates with proper notice of the intent to conduct a background check during the hiring process.

Although they cannot ask a candidate about their criminal history on a job application, if a background check is conducted after application screening for a position where such a background check is not required by law, the employer must provide the candidate with the chance to explain their criminal history. They must also consider the duties of the role; how a candidate’s history may affect their ability to perform the job; the candidate’s age at the time of the offense(s) and time that has passed; frequency and seriousness of the offense; rehabilitation activities since the offense; and any public policy benefits that may occur as a result of employing candidates with criminal records. In addition, any criminal history found during Tennessee criminal background checks must remain confidential. See law.

Senate Bill 2014

Summary: Under this law, individuals who apply for board of education, charter school, and childcare roles—including teachers and other positions that work closely with children—are required to supply their fingerprints, release their criminal records, and submit to both TBI and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal record checks prior to employment and at least every five years once employed. See law.

House Bill 910

Summary: Under this law, city and county law enforcement agencies are not allowed to release the personal information of people that have been arrested or charged, but not convicted, including home address, Social Security number, or telephone number. However, CRAs are exempt from this requirement. See law.

Employee Online Privacy Act

Summary: Tennessee employers are prohibited from accessing a candidate’s private social media or social media accounts. They also cannot ask a candidate for access to their personal account in the employer’s presence, their passwords, or to add the employer to their online contacts. See law

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Summary: When working with a CRA for pre-employment background checks, Tennessee employers are required to follow the federal regulations under the FCRA. Under this law, employers must give the candidate notice of the intent to conduct a background check in writing and receive written permission from the individual to conduct the background check. Should the results of the background check reveal something that affects the employer’s hiring decision negatively, they must follow the adverse action process. See law.

Tennessee fair hiring laws

Local Ban the Box laws apply in Tennessee counties and cities, all relating to public sector hiring, as follows:

  • Alliance: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Chattanooga: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Hamilton County: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the county government.
  • Memphis: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Nashville: A Ban the Box law applies to non-public safety related positions within the city government, subject to Metro Civil Service Commission rules.
  • Shelby County: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the county government, with some exceptions required by state or federal law, such as those in the Department of Corrections.

Get a Tennessee background check with Checkr

Tennessee employers that work with a qualified background check provider, such as Checkr, experience a turnkey process that provides faster turnaround times and more accurate reporting. With access to multiple types of screenings, an easy-to-use dashboard, and ATS, HR, and onboarding integrations, Checkr helps employers deliver a more streamlined background check process and positive candidate experience. Learn how Checkr can help your company hire smarter.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

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About the author

As Compliance Manager, Danielle analyzes the ever-changing laws and regulations affecting background screening to ensure that Checkr and its customers stay compliant. She also writes content to educate employers about background checks, screening best practices, and fair hiring laws. 

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