Guide to Washington Background Checks

Danielle Hubein
August 11, 2023
5 min read

When bringing on new employees or volunteers, employers can use a Washington State background check for employment to make more informed hiring decisions. Background checks help organizations determine a candidate’s eligibility for a role and verify their qualifications, plus provide additional insight beyond what a candidate lists on their resume or application.

From criminal record searches to motor vehicle history checks, it’s important that employers remain compliant with all federal, state, and local laws. Here’s what Washington employers need to know about how to run a WA State background check, how long they take to conduct, and the laws that apply.

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What shows up on a Washington State background check?

Depending on the type of report ordered, a candidate’s criminal history, driving records, education history, previous employment details, professional licenses, and credit history may show up on a Washington background check for employment.

Employers in Washington may choose from many different background screening options. Which reports are ordered may be determined by the duties of the position, legal compliance requirements, and the employer’s budget for background check fees.
Ultimately, what appears on a background check will also be dictated by any federal, state, or local regulations on background screenings. Washington regulations may restrict the type of information included on a report (such as credit history), the lookback period for each type of check, and which screenings may be ordered for specific positions or industries.

What types of background checks are run in Washington?

Employers can run many types of Washington background checks—such as Washington State Patrol reports, criminal record reports, MVR or driving record checks, and education and employment verification—to help them make hiring decisions. A Washington background check for employment can be conducted directly by the employer or with the help of a qualified consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr.

Common background checks that Washington State employers may run include:

  • Washington State Patrol background checks, which include state criminal history record information (CHRI) on criminal convictions, state arrests with dispositions pending that have occurred in the past year, and registered kidnapping/sex offenders. This report will not show criminal history information from other states or federal criminal records. Any member of the public, including employers, may request a Washington CHRI report for non-criminal justice purposes using the Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH) system. Some positions may require Washington State Patrol reports, such as jobs where candidates will have unsupervised access to children.
  • Criminal background checks ordered from other entities or through third-party vendors can search a candidate’s federal records and records from other states (in addition to Washington state or county records) for comprehensive information about their criminal history.
  • Motor vehicle records checks to review a candidate's driving record—including license status, accidents, moving violations, and vehicle-related convictions like DUIs.
  • Education verification to validate an individual's academic background, including schools attended, degrees earned, graduation dates, and attendance dates.
  • Employment verification to confirm a candidate's work history, such as their past employers, job titles, and length of employment.
  • Civil searches to review a candidate’s civil court records, such as judgments, lawsuits, liens, and restraining orders.
  • Credit checks to look into an applicant’s credit history, including credit reports, tax liens, accounts in collections, and bankruptcies.
  • Drug testing to screen for the presence of alcohol and controlled substances.

How long does a background check take in Washington State?

Washington background check turnaround times may vary depending on the type of report and who is conducting the search. Certain types of reports may be available immediately, such as certain types of Washington State Patrol background checks requested online using WATCH. Other Washington State records may need to be requested by mail or in person directly from the appropriate Washington court, which may take several days or more.Employers that choose to work with a CRA, like Checkr, may experience faster background check turnaround times thanks to a more streamlined process and direct access to public records. Checkr’s network of court runners across the US, combined with access to thousands of public records and databases, provides faster turnaround times and more accuracy in reporting than many manual checks performed in-house. Checkr gives transparency to employers and candidates every step of the way by using machine learning to predict turnaround times for individual reports at the county level.

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Washington State pre-employment background check laws

Washington State has five statewide laws that apply to background checks. In addition, there are local fair hiring and Ban the Box laws that certain employers may be required to follow, depending on their location. Some employers may choose to comply with the strictest Washington State background check laws to mitigate the risk of potential legal issues and liability.

Ban the Box law: Washington Fair Chance Act

Summary: All Washington employers, including both public and private, are required to comply with this Ban the Box law, known as the Washington Fair Chance Act.

Under this law, Washington employers conducting criminal background checks in Washington State are only allowed to ask about a candidate’s criminal history, conduct a criminal background check, or otherwise obtain information about a candidate’s criminal history after the employer determines that the candidate is otherwise qualified for a position. Employers are also prohibited from implementing policies or practices that automatically or categorically exclude candidates with a criminal record, including rejecting candidates for failure to disclose a criminal record. See law.

County- and city-specific Ban the Box laws also apply across Washington State. See below for more details.

Use of arrest and conviction information, WAC 162.12.140

Summary: WAC 162.12.140 requires that any pre-employment inquiries concerning arrests include whether charges are still pending, have been dismissed, or led to a conviction of a crime involving behavior that would adversely affect job performance. Additionally, the arrests must be less than ten years old. Convictions may be considered by employers if the crimes are reasonably related to the job duties and the convictions (or release from prison) occurred within the last ten years. See law.

Credit report law, RCW 19.182.020

Summary: RCW 19.182.020 generally restricts Washington employers from inquiring about a candidate’s credit reports. However, in cases where the information is mandated by federal or state law or the information is substantially related to the role (and the employer’s reasons for the use of credit information are disclosed to the candidate in writing), a credit report can be requested. See law.

Social media law, RCW 49.44.200

Summary: Under RCW 49.44.200, Washington State employers are prohibited from accessing certain aspects of candidates’ social media information. They are not allowed to ask candidates to change their social media account privacy settings or ask to be added as a connection. Employers also cannot require candidates to provide their social media login information or access their social media in the presence of the employer. See law.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

Summary: When working with a CRA, Washington State employers must comply with the FCRA. Mandated at the federal level, the FCRA’s requirements include providing a candidate with written notice of the intent to conduct a background check and receiving consent back in writing. Should the employer decide not to hire the candidate based on information included in a background check, they must follow the adverse action process. See law.

Washington fair hiring laws at the local level

Depending on where an employer or candidate is located, both local and state fair hiring regulations laws may apply to Washington background checks. These typically fall under the category of Ban the Box laws, which prohibit employers from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history until certain hiring actions have been taken. Counties in Washington with these laws are:

  • Pierce County: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the county government.
  • Seattle: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Spokane: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Spokane County: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the county government.

Get a Washington State background check with Checkr

The most populous state in the US is also one of the most active in regulating background checks for employment. Partnering with a qualified CRA, like Checkr, can streamline the background check process while helping enable compliance with California’s many state and local laws. Checkr delivers accurate, compliant reports tailored to your needs, so you can make fair, informed hiring decisions to grow your workforce.

Get a Washington
background check today


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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