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Background Check Glossary

We’ve compiled a list of key terms and definitions related to background checks. Whether you’re an employer, job seeker, or just curious about the process, this glossary is designed to help you understand the terminology used in background screening. From “Adverse Action” to “Verification,” we’ve covered all the essential concepts to provide you with a clearer understanding of background checks. Explore this resource to enhance your knowledge and confidently navigate the background check process.


  • Applicant Tracking System (ATS): A software application that automates recruitment by handling job postings, applications, and candidate tracking.
  • Adverse Action: A negative action taken by an employer, such as denying employment, based on the results of a background check.


  • Background Check: An investigation into an individual’s criminal, financial, employment, and/or educational history.
  • Ban the Box: A movement advocating removing the question about criminal history from job application forms.


  • Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA): An organization that provides background check reports for employment purposes.
  • Credit Report: A document detailing an individual’s credit history, used primarily for financial background checks.


  • Drug Screening: The process of testing an individual for using illegal substances or prescription medications.
  • Due Diligence: The investigation or exercise of care that a reasonable business or person must take before entering into an agreement or contract.


  • E-Verify: A system used by employers to verify the eligibility of employees to work in the United States.
  • Employment Verification: The process of confirming an individual’s past employment history.


  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): A federal law that regulates the collection, dissemination, and use of consumer information, including credit information and background checks.
  • Fingerprinting: Taking an individual’s fingerprints for identification is often used in criminal background checks.


  • Gig Economy: A labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.
  • Global Watchlist Check: A background check that searches various domestic and international databases for any criminal or terrorist activity associated with an individual.


  • Hiring Manager: The person overseeing the hiring process and making final employment decisions.
  • Human Resources (HR): The department within an organization responsible for managing employee-related functions, including recruitment and background checks.


  • Identity Verification: Confirming an individual’s identity, typically through government-issued identification documents.
  • Investigative Consumer Report: A background check that includes interviews with individuals who know the applicant, providing a more in-depth view of their character and reputation.


  • Job Applicant: An individual who has applied for a position with an organization.
  • Juvenile Records: Records of offenses committed by individuals under 18 may or may not be included in a background check depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the job.


  • Know Your Employee (KYE): A process similar to Know Your Customer (KYC) but focused on verifying the identity and background of employees.
  • Key Performance Indicator (KPI): A measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company is achieving key business objectives, including those related to the hiring and background check process.


  • Legal Compliance: Adherence to laws and regulations relevant to the background check process, including the FCRA and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.
  • Lie Detector Test: A polygraph test used in some instances as part of the pre-employment screening process, although its use is restricted in many jurisdictions.


  • Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) Check: A background check that examines an individual’s driving history, including any traffic violations, accidents, or suspensions.
  • Misrepresentation: Providing false or misleading information, which can be uncovered during a background check.


  • National Criminal Database Check: A background check that searches a compilation of criminal records from various jurisdictions across the United States.
  • Negligent Hiring: A legal claim that can be made against an employer who fails to conduct an adequate background check and hires an employee who causes harm.


  • Occupational Health and Safety (OHS): Regulations and practices aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of employees in the workplace.
  • Onboarding: The process of integrating a new employee into an organization, which may include conducting a background check.


  • Pre-Employment Screening: The process of verifying the credentials and background of a potential employee before hiring.
  • Professional License Verification: A background check confirming whether an individual holds a valid professional license.


  • Qualified Immunity: A legal doctrine that protects government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity unless they violate established law.
  • Quality Control: Measures taken to ensure the accuracy and reliability of background check reports.


  • Reference Check: A part of the background check process where previous employers or other references are contacted to verify an applicant’s work history and qualifications.
  • Risk Management: The process of identifying, assessing, and controlling risks that could potentially affect an organization’s operations, including risks related to hiring and employment.


  • Social Security Number Trace: A background check tool that verifies an individual’s Social Security number and provides address history.
  • Sex Offender Registry Check: A background check that searches national and state sex offender registries to determine if an applicant is a registered sex offender.


  • Tenant Screening: The process of evaluating potential renters, including background checks similar to those used for employment.
  • Third-Party Administrator (TPA): An organization that manages and processes background checks for employers.


  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA): A federal law that protects the employment rights of military service members.
  • Unemployment Verification: Confirming an individual’s unemployment claims and history.


  • Verification Services: Services provided by CRAs or other organizations to verify the accuracy of information provided by job applicants, such as employment history or educational qualifications.
  • Volunteer Screening: The process of conducting background checks on individuals who are applying to volunteer, particularly in positions that involve working with vulnerable populations.


  • Work Eligibility Verification: The process of verifying that an individual is legally authorized to work in a specific country, often through documents such as visas or work permits.
  • Wrongful Termination: A legal claim that can be made if an employee is fired in violation of federal, state, or local laws, including those related to discrimination or retaliation for reporting misconduct.


  • X-Ref: Short for cross-reference, a method used in background checks to verify information by comparing it against multiple sources.
  • XML (eXtensible Markup Language): A markup language used for storing and transporting data, which can be used to transmit background check information electronically.


  • Yearly Audit: An annual review conducted to assess the compliance and effectiveness of an organization’s background check processes and policies.
  • Youth Employment: Regulations and considerations related to the employment of individuals under 18 can include specific background check requirements.


  • Zero Tolerance Policy: A policy that allows for no exceptions in certain situations, such as workplace violence or drug use, which background check results can inform.
  • Zip Code Verification: A process that may be part of an address history check, verifying the accuracy of zip codes associated with an applicant’s previous addresses.

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