Guide to Wisconsin Background Checks

Karen Axelton
March 04, 2024
5 min read

Conducting employment background checks can help Wisconsin employers verify candidates’ eligibility and qualifications for a role, gain insight into their background, and mitigate risk. While a background screening can provide valuable insights, it’s important to follow all applicable laws impacting background checks. Keep reading to learn how to get a Wisconsin background check, what information a background check may include, and what laws employers should understand when conducting pre-employment background check in Wisconsin.

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What is a Wisconsin background check?

Wisconsin employment background checks search public records and other data sources to gather information about a candidate or employee, such as the person’s employment and education history, criminal record, driving record, or credit history. Employers often perform background checks before bringing job candidates or volunteers onboard; some may also conduct routine background screenings for current employees.  

What shows up on a Wisconsin background check?

Information included in a Wisconsin employment background check depends upon the type of search conducted; federal, state, and local laws regulating background checks; and the employer’s background screening policy.

Here are some common background screenings that Wisconsin employers may conduct and what may be reported:

  • Criminal background checks may show misdemeanor and felony convictions, arrest records, and pending criminal cases.
  • Motor vehicle records checks show license type and status, suspensions, revocations, and motor vehicle-related offenses and convictions, like DUIs.
  • Employment verification reports a candidate’s prior employment, including positions held and dates of employment.
  • Education verification reports schools attended, dates of attendance and any credentials or degrees the candidate earned.  
  • Credit checks for employment may show open credit lines, payment history, accounts in collections, and public information including bankruptcies or tax liens. These searches are often used for managerial roles or jobs handling money.
  • Drug testing can identify current or past use of certain prescription and illicit substances or alcohol.

Can information on a background check disqualify candidates from employment?

A Wisconsin employment background check may report information that can disqualify a candidate from employment, though employers must be careful to review their organization’s background check policy and comply with relevant laws when basing employment decisions on the results of a background screening. 

For example, Wisconsin law prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates based on criminal records. However, a candidate may be disqualified if a Wisconsin criminal background check reports an arrest or conviction that is “substantially related” to the duties of the position. For example, drunk driving offenses may legally disqualify an individual from a driving related position but not other forms of employment..

Candidates may be disqualified from a driving-related job if an MVR check through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation shows a revoked or suspended license or a history of reckless driving. Drug tests may disqualify candidates from jobs involving public safety, operating heavy machinery, or other roles where impairment could pose a liability risk.

Wisconsin background check laws

There are several Wisconsin employment background check laws that apply statewide that may impact an employer’s hiring process.

Ban the Box

Summary: A statewide Ban the Box law prohibits public employers from asking about a candidate’s criminal history on job applications. Inquiries about criminal history can take place only at the interview stage. See law.

Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA)

Summary: Employers are prohibited from discriminating against candidates or employees on the basis of age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, arrest record, conviction record, or military service. See law.

Wisconsin Statute § 111.335

Summary: Employers may not discriminate against candidates or employees due to criminal history. It is not considered discrimination if an arrest or conviction is substantially related to the job. In this case, the employer must perform an individualized assessment of the role and the offense before making a decision to deny employment. See law.

Wisconsin Statute § 995.55

Summary: Employers cannot ask candidates for their social media passwords or require candidates to show them their social media accounts. They cannot discriminate against candidates for refusing to share this information. See law.

Wisconsin Statute § 50.065

Summary: Employers must perform background checks for employees or contractors who meet the law’s definition of a “caregiver” and have regular, direct contact with patients, residents, or clients. These background screenings must be completed when an employee is hired and at least every four years after that. For caregivers who lived outside Wisconsin at any point in the previous three years, employers must make a good faith attempt to check out-of-state criminal records. See law.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

In addition to Wisconsin background check laws, employers who work with a consumer reporting agency (CRA), like Checkr, to conduct background screenings must comply with the FCRA. This federal law requires employers to provide disclosure of their intent to conduct a background check and receive written consent from the candidate prior to moving forward. Additionally, if the employer makes a decision against employment based on the results of a background check, they must follow the adverse action process. See law.

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How to get a Wisconsin background check

Employers can conduct some Wisconsin background checks online, including criminal records searches and MVR searches, but may also need to contact past employers, schools, or government records offices by phone or mail. Enlisting a background check provider to conduct pre-employment background checks in Wisconsin is more efficient and delivers more accurate results than handling the screenings yourself.

Here's how to conduct common pre-employment background checks in Wisconsin:

A name-based criminal records search can be requested online using the Wisconsin Online Record Check System (WORCS) website. Employers can also request criminal records searches by mail.  Employers may also search information maintained in the Wisconsin Department of Justice Crime Information Bureau (CIB) criminal history database, which is fingerprint-based. Certain records will not appear in a CIB criminal background check, including records without fingerprints, arrests or convictions outside Wisconsin, and juvenile records.

Driving records can be searched online by creating an account with the Public Access Request System (PARS or you can also fill out a Vehicle/Driver Record Information Request Form (MV2896) and request records by mail. Certified copies of MVRs can only be requested by mail.

Conducting a Wisconsin background check using your in-house resources can be time-consuming and difficult to manage for a busy hiring team. A DIY background check could also expose you to legal liability if you fail to follow applicable laws. Partnering with a CRA to conduct your employment background checks can speed results for more efficient hiring, while delivering accurate background screening reports that comply with relevant employment laws.

How far back do background checks go in Wisconsin?

There are generally no state of Wisconsin background check laws limiting how far back a pre-employment background check can go. However, employers working with a CRA to conduct background checks must follow lookback periods of the federal FCRA. 

The FCRA sets a seven-year lookback period for reporting information unrelated to criminal convictions, such as tax liens, civil judgments, and most information on consumer credit reports. However, bankruptcies can be reported for 10 years, while criminal convictions can be reported indefinitely. These rules may not apply to positions with salaries of $75,000 or more or when employers perform background checks themselves.

How long does an employment background check take in Wisconsin?

How long a Wisconsin employment background check takes can vary widely based on the type of screenings performed and whether you handle the background check yourself or rely on a CRA. On average, the turnaround time for background checks when using a CRA take three to five business days. However, screenings such as lab-based drug testing or international background checks may take longer. Incorrect or incomplete information from candidates can further delay background screenings. 

If performing your own background checks, you can easily spend days or weeks scheduling drug tests, waiting for records to arrive in the mail, or attempting to contact former employers. You’ll also need to keep candidates informed of the screening’s progress, answer their questions, and make sure all the legally required documentation is in place.

Working with a background check provider, like Checkr, to handle your background screenings can speed turnaround times, allowing you to fill key roles quickly. In fact, some 84% of Checkr’s background check reports are completed in less than 15 minutes. Checkr’s candidate portal gives candidates visibility into expected background check turnaround times and progress, while answering common questions to ensure a positive experience.

How much does a Wisconsin background check cost?

The cost of a Wisconsin background check depends on the number and type of screenings performed. When conducting background checks yourself, you’ll need to pay for each record requested. This can quickly add up, especially if you’re hiring at scale.

Online criminal background checks in Wisconsin cost $7; online criminal background checks for caregivers cost $10. There is an additional $5 fee if you request background checks by mail.

Non-certified Wisconsin driver records can be obtained for $5 each; certified driver records cost $10 each.

When conducting background checks, working with a CRA can be more cost-effective than a DIY approach. Checkr offers tiered packages starting at $29.99, with options to customize background screening options to meet your needs. Large-scale employers may qualify for  volume discounts.

Local Wisconsin fair hiring laws

In addition to the statewide Ban the Box law, local fair hiring laws apply in several Wisconsin jurisdictions, including:

  • Dane County: A Ban the Box Law applies to positions within the county government. 
  • Madison: A Ban the Box law applies to government employers and contractors.
  • Milwaukee: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the city government.
  • Milwaukee County: A Ban the Box law applies to positions within the county government.

Get a Wisconsin background check from Checkr

Partnering with a qualified CRA, like Checkr, to perform Wisconsin background checks can streamline workflows, reduce manual effort, and expedite hiring. Checkr offers multiple screening options, with customizable packages to fit your needs. Our modern platform and proprietary databases deliver swift, accurate reports at any scale, while supporting compliance with federal and Wisconsin background check laws. Get started.

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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

Karen Axelton writes about business topics and best practices. She has written hundreds of articles on business subjects, including background screening, hiring and employment trends, human resource management, and the use of technology in the workplace. Her work includes educational articles, e-books, white papers, and case studies.

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