After a candidate completes the disclosure and authorization process for a pre-hire background check, you’ll soon have results to help you move the candidate through the hiring process. However, sometimes the background check results reveal information the candidate wants to dispute. 

To stay in legal compliance and offer a positive candidate experience, here are the key considerations and steps you need to take to manage disputes related to background check results.

Reasons Candidates Dispute Their Background Check Results

Not surprisingly, candidates typically want to dispute results when they become aware of something in their background check report which could impact their ability to be hired for a position. Given the time and effort candidates invest in finding and interviewing for a job opportunity, they understandably don’t want to lose it over background check results, particularly if they believe the results contain errors.

Sometimes background check results reveal information a candidate tried to hide, but not always. In fact, cases involving disputed results are often not the “fault” of the candidate or the screening company. Inaccurate information reported on a candidate’s background check can be the result of erroneous information provided by an educational institution, former employer, or some other source.

Some of the possible reasons a candidate may dispute their background check results include:

  • The candidate believes the information provided by employment or education references is inaccurate, for example, graduation status or dates of employment.
  • The results go far back in time, and the candidate argues they are no longer relevant.
  • Criminal records results have an incorrect judgment, for example, an incorrectly reported conviction or outcome.
  • Criminal records results are for a different person other than the candidate, for example, another John W. Smith.
  • The results include court cases or charges which were sealed, expunged, or should never have been reported.

Given the many possible scenarios in which candidates may dispute their background check results, it’s important to be prepared and have a clear policy for how your organization will respond.

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Steps for Managing Disputed Background Check Results

Considering the many sources of information for a background check report—schools, former employers, criminal record databases, and professional licensing agencies—you’re likely to have situations where candidates dispute their background check results. When it does happen, you’ll need to understand your legal obligations and the best practices for guiding individuals through the dispute process.

Take these steps for success in managing disputes:

1. Document hiring practices and follow your policy.

Every background check dispute from a candidate requires your attention, responsiveness, and compliance with the law and your internal policies. To avoid skipping any required steps, you’ll need to document the process you will follow, from the moment a candidate disputes background check results to the point where you make a final determination and hiring decision.

Having a policy for managing disputes supports greater consistency and compliance, and it keeps your hiring process fair and unbiased. A policy grounded in applicable employment law will also help your organization avoid lawsuits and non-compliance penalties.

2. Follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) adverse action process. 

Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), all individuals have the right to dispute information on their background check report. The FCRA also requires employers to take specific steps, including providing the following information to candidates who dispute their background check results:

3. Keep the position open while you give the candidate time to respond.

After receiving the pre-adverse action notification, a candidate can determine how to respond and gather information to support the dispute. In some cases, candidates may not even be aware of anything in their background that could impact their employment. Even if they are, they need an opportunity to view the results, understand their rights, and prepare a response.

During this time, it’s advisable to keep the position open and not take any action to fill it with another candidate until you have completed the adverse action process. You’ll also need to make sure your policy outlines how much time you will give candidates to respond during the adverse action process. Many organizations provide five days, but you may choose to provide more.

4. Notify your background screening provider of the dispute.

At the same time a candidate is considering available options and gathering new information to support the dispute, you should contact your background screening provider. Upon receiving notification, the provider is required to re-investigate the disputed information. Though this process typically takes just a couple of days, it can take longer depending on the information being disputed, so prompt notification is key.

As a result of your background screening provider’s investigation, there are three possible outcomes:

  • The disputed information is re-confirmed at the source.
  • The source provides corrected information, for example. a school previously recording no graduation information confirms that the candidate did indeed graduate.
  • Any disputed information that can’t be re-confirmed, for example, information from an employment reference, will be removed from the individual’s background check report.

5. Carefully consider all new information. 

Either the candidate or your screening provider may provide new information for your consideration during the dispute process. Examples may include the following:

  • Updated employment and education information such as employment dates, graduation dates, or new feedback from references
  • New information showing convictions or charges as expunged or removed from the candidate’s record

When newly provided information results in a change to the candidate’s background check results, your screening company will provide you with an up-to-date and accurate report. From there, you’ll need to carefully consider the information on the updated report before deciding to take adverse action.

6. Consult legal counsel and your policy before taking adverse action.

New information from the candidate or your screening provider may support the decision to move forward with hiring the candidate. Alternatively, if you decide to take adverse action, you should consult legal counsel and your policies to be sure you have covered all required steps. 

Upon communication of adverse action, you’ll need to provide the candidate with an FCRA-required adverse action notice, which includes the following information:

  • The name of the background check company running the report
  • Notification that the decision was made by you, the employer, and not the background check company or credit reporting agency (CRA)
  • A copy of the candidate’s consumer rights under the FCRA
  • A copy of the background check report
  • Notification of the candidate's right to request another copy of their report within 60 days

7. Always work with a knowledgeable and committed background screening partner.

An experienced background screening provider recognizes the possibility of erroneous information from sources such as databases, schools, or former employers, and the provider should have processes in place to obtain and verify the most up-to-date background data before reporting it. Also, a reputable provider is more likely to have a low dispute rate and can provide metrics to demonstrate accuracy in reporting.

When you partner with a provider committed to a high standard of accuracy in background check reporting, you can not only experience fewer disputes, but you can also expect reliable guidance for resolving them.

Improve Your Overall Background Screening Process

By following FCRA requirements for adverse action and working with a trusted background screening partner, you can successfully manage hiring risks legally and fairly. Developing an efficient and compliant adverse action process is just one of the many ways to improve your overall background screening process. 


For more tips and guidance, take our interactive assessment and learn about additional opportunities to improve your program.

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