What To Do When Your Candidate “Fails” A Background Check

Lauren Woodyard
December 18, 2023
4 min read

Many employers conduct background checks as part of their hiring process, to make informed hiring decisions, maintain a safe work environment, and comply with industry and legal requirements. If the report does not return any adverse information, a background check can put your mind at ease. But what do you do if the background check reveals unexpected news about your job candidate?

Get a background check today

Watch the video or keep reading for more.

What is a "failed" background check?

A failed background check means the background screening report has uncovered “hits” or alerts on a job candidate. Depending on the role to be assumed by the job candidate and the information uncovered by the background check, a failed background check after a job offer generally does not automatically disqualify them from the position.

When your background screening returns unexpected results, it’s important to review the report based on your company’s background check policy and hiring procedures. Careful consideration can help you make an informed decision about how you should proceed with the hiring process.

Note: As an organization, Checkr does not use pass or fail language with regard to background checks. However, we know that many people do use these terms and have questions about how to proceed when a background check requires extra consideration.

Checkr is committed to our mission of fair chance hiring and empowering employers to fairly assess their candidates' history. Checkr tools like Assess can help employers implement and scale fairer background screening adjudication processes.

Reasons why a candidate could "fail" a background check

There are many reasons why a candidate may “fail” a background check, from criminal history to discrepancies in employment or education history, or an unsafe driving record or failed drug test. Different types of background checks return different types of information that may or may not be relevant to the job offer, so careful consideration of the results will aid in an informed hiring decision.

Criminal history

An individual’s criminal history can be uncovered through a background check, which may reveal felony and misdemeanor convictions, and infractions or violations. Arrests that didn’t lead to prosecution; charges of which an individual was acquitted; and charges that were dismissed may also appear on a criminal record. Because criminal convictions vary by type and degree, a criminal record may not disqualify a candidate from proceeding with a job offer. In some cases, a criminal record could bar a candidate from a particular role. For example, a candidate with a record of a fraud conviction may be ineligible for a role in financial services.

Employment history

An employment verification is a type of background check that confirms a candidate’s stated information about past employment. But what happens if a background check can't verify employment? A failed background check report may indicate a discrepancy between the information listed on a candidate’s resume and information discovered through the verification process.

Education history

An education verification provides information about the validity of a person’s academic credentials from colleges, universities, high schools, or GED equivalencies. A failed education verification usually indicates a discrepancy between the information reported by the candidate and the information reported by the institution. If a background check reveals invalid or missing academic credentials, a candidate may be disqualified from a position.

Driving record

MVR checks, also known as driving record background checks, search state department of motor vehicles databases for information about a candidate’s driving record, which may include license status, type, and class, as well as accident reports, traffic violations, and driving-related convictions. An MVR check that reveals a suspended license or unsafe driving practices may disqualify the candidate from being eligible for a driving-related role.

Drug test

A pre-employment drug test is used to detect the presence of controlled substances, and in some cases alcohol. If a candidate fails a drug screen, the presence of a substance has been detected at a level above the predetermined threshold. In certain jobs where impairment could create liability in the workplace (for example, working with heavy machinery), a failed drug test may disqualify the candidate from the role. However, regulations concerning drug testing and hiring decisions vary from one location to another, so employers should follow applicable state laws and the advice of legal counsel.

What to do when a candidate "fails" a background check

Because background checks return information from so many different sources, background check alerts may not always be relevant to a job offer. How do you decide what to do with a failed background check, and how much should the results of a background check influence a job offer?

If you’re wondering what to do when a candidate fails a background check, the answer may seem complex, but there are guidelines and steps you need to take. Your first priority should always be legal compliance with the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), related state laws, and any local Ban the Box or other hiring-related laws. You may also want to review and implement Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance. Because the information that may be used in hiring decisions can vary between states, employers should consult with their legal team to help ensure you are following best practices as you screen and hire new employees.

When you face challenging hiring decisions, here are five steps to consider:

  1. 1. Consult your company’s written background check policy
  2. A written background check policy should guide your hiring decisions. Effective background check policies should be consistent, current, and comprehensive. If your policy meets these standards, it can provide reassurance that you are treating potential employees fairly, complying with legal regulations, and responding appropriately to contingencies.
  1. 2. Send a pre-adverse action notice
  2. If, based on the results of a background check you are considering rescinding a job offer, you must first inform the job candidate with a pre-adverse action notice. This notice is a requirement of the FRCA, and should contain an explanation of the adverse information you discovered, a copy of the background check, and their summary of right
  1. 3. Allow the candidate time to respond
  2. You must give the candidate an opportunity to dispute the results of the background check if there are any inaccuracies or provide additional context. Fair hiring laws in some jurisdictions may include a specific amount of time for this step, typically between five to 10 business days.
  3. If you use Checkr for background checks, our Candidate Stories tool allows candidates to easily share context about records on their report to give them a voice in the hiring process and enable employers to make fair, confident hiring decisions.
  1. 4. Make a hiring decision
  2. Your final hiring decision should be in alignment with your company’s written background check policy. You may want to incorporateEEOC guidelines for conducting an individualized assessment. The EEOC’s nature-time-nature test suggests employers consider the nature of the offense, the time that has passed since the conviction, and the relevance of the offense to the position.
  1. 5. Send final adverse action notice
  2. After the waiting period has elapsed, if you decide not to move forward with the candidate, federal law requires sending a final adverse action notice. This notice must inform the candidate of your reasons for the decision and their right to dispute it. The notice must also include an option for the candidate to request a copy of the background check within 60 days. If the employer used a consumer reporting agency to perform the background check, the notice should include the agency’s contact information and a statement that the employer (not the agency) made the hiring decision. You should keep a copy of the notice and any attachments sent with the notice for your records.

Get a background check with Checkr

When a background check reveals unexpected information about a job candidate, it’s important to make fair hiring decisions while complying with legal requirements. By carefully assessing the results of a background check and following a consistent five-step evaluation process, you can make more confident and compliant hiring decisions.

Checkr offers multiple background screening options through our advanced platform for fast, accurate results. Built-in compliance tools also streamline adjudication and support fair hiring. Our customizable packages and transparent pricing provides the right-size fit for any size business to hire confidently and quickly.

Get a background check today


The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Headshot of Lauren WoodyardHeadshot of Lauren Woodyard

About the author

As Content Marketing Manager at Checkr, Lauren develops resources to educate employers about background checks, hiring best practices, and related compliance. She also writes about Checkr’s company news and product updates.

Keep reading

Ready to get started?