Hiring the right candidate is crucial for any organization. An essential step in the hiring process is conducting thorough background checks, including county background checks. These checks can provide a more detailed view of an applicant’s history by scouring localized records that national or state-level checks might miss.

Key Takeaways

  1. County background checks are specific searches conducted at the county level to uncover criminal records and other relevant information about an individual.
  2. These checks are crucial for employers, landlords, and organizations to make informed decisions about potential hires, tenants, or volunteers.
  3. County background checks typically include criminal records, court records, and sometimes additional public records specific to the county.
  4. The process involves searching county courthouse records or databases, often requiring in-person visits or access to county-specific online systems.
  5. Advantages of county background checks include their accuracy, up-to-date information, and ability to uncover local offenses that may not appear in broader searches.
  6. Limitations include the potential for incomplete information if a person has lived in multiple counties and the time-consuming nature of searching individual county records.
  7. Employers and organizations should consider combining county background checks with other screening methods for a more comprehensive view of an individual’s background.


Hiring the wrong person can cost your business more than just dollars; it can impact your company’s reputation, safety, and productivity. A rigorous background check is more than a formality—it’s necessary. While national and state-level searches offer a broad overview, they can miss critical details. That’s where county background checks come in.

County background checks dig into localized records to uncover information that broader checks might overlook. Think of them as the magnifying glass that complements the wider lens. They can reveal specifics about an applicant’s history in areas like criminal activity, public court records, and unresolved legal issues that might have slipped through the cracks.

This guide aims to arm you with the know-how and tools to conduct county background checks effectively and legally. We’ll cover everything from understanding what these checks entail to navigating the legal landscape. So, let’s get into how to make these checks a seamless part of your hiring process.

What Are County Background Checks?

County background checks examine records maintained at the county level, which can sometimes contain information not captured by state or national databases. Unlike broader background checks, county background checks focus on localized data, giving employers targeted insights into an applicant’s history in specific geographical areas.

Types of Information:

  • County Criminal Background Checks: These reveal an individual’s criminal activity within a particular county, including misdemeanors and felonies.
  • County Public Records: This can include voter registration, property ownership, and marriage licenses.
  • County Arrest Records: Detail instances of arrest within that jurisdiction, whether or not they led to convictions.
  • County Court Records Search: Provides access to civil and criminal court proceedings, including judgments and ongoing cases.

Such localized data is crucial because it can unveil incidents that state or national checks miss. Missed details might include minor offenses or civil disputes that could signal potential risks for your organization. In essence, county background checks add an enriched layer to your hiring due diligence, ensuring you have a comprehensive view of your candidate’s background.

Steps to Conduct a County Background Check

Before diving headfirst into a county background check, you must get the applicant’s thumbs-up. Legally, this means securing written permission from the candidate. This isn’t just a bureaucratic hurdle— it’s a crucial step that aligns with privacy laws and ensures transparency.


According to FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) guidelines, you can’t just go snooping around someone’s history without their say-so. Sending a simple, clear consent form can save you from legal headaches. The form should spell out what details you’re looking for, how you intend to use the information, and who might see it.

Best Practices

Crafting a bulletproof consent form isn’t rocket science, but it does need to cover a few essentials:

  1. Clear Language: Skip the legalese. Use simple, direct language that a layperson can understand.
  2. Scope of Check: Specify what types of records you’ll be looking at—criminal history, employment verifications, education verifications, etc.
  3. Purpose: Explain why you need this information and how it fits into your hiring process.
  4. Disclosure: Mention if third-party services will be used to obtain the data.
  5. Secure Storage: Store these consent forms securely, whether in a locked file cabinet or encrypted digital storage. The candidate’s information must be protected.

Once you’ve got the signed form, you’re legally clear to proceed. Up next: figuring out which counties warrant a deep dive into the applicant’s past.

Step 2: Identify the Relevant Counties

Before starting the actual search, you need to determine which counties are relevant to your applicant. This involves investigating their past residences and employment history.

Past Residences

Start by obtaining a detailed address history for your applicant. Typically, people move around, especially in their younger years or early careers. Perform checks in the counties where they’ve lived for significant periods—usually a year or more—over the past seven to ten years. Landlords might not always report every incident to national databases so that local records can fill those gaps.

Relevant Employment

Next, examine the applicant’s employment history. If someone worked in a different county than they lived, this is another crucial location to check. Certain workplace incidents or legal issues might be recorded in the county where they worked, not where they resided. For instance, a business office in another county could have relevant court records related to employment disputes or other matters.

By systematically identifying these counties, you’ll ensure your background check is as comprehensive and accurate as possible, making the next steps in your search more focused and meaningful.

Step 3: Access the Records

So, you’ve got the applicant’s consent and identified the relevant counties. Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive into the records.

Online vs. In-Person

When accessing county records, you generally have two options: online databases and in-person searches. Each method has its pros and cons.

Online DatabasesIn-Person Searches
ProsConvenience is the name of the game. You can conduct searches from your office, any time of day.

Speed is another big plus. Results can often be delivered in minutes.

Broad access to multiple counties’ records from one platform is a significant advantage.
Accuracy is top-notch. You’re looking at the most current, complete records available.

You get the chance to ask clerks for help, which can be invaluable if you’re unsure where to look.
ConsAccuracy is top-notch. You’re looking at the most current, complete records available.

You can ask clerks for help, which can be invaluable if you are unsure where to look.
Time-consuming for sure. Traveling to the courthouse and waiting for records might take longer than you’d like.

Less convenient if the applicant has lived in multiple counties.

Third-Party Services

Feeling overwhelmed? No sweat. Third-party background check companies can take the load off your shoulders. Here’s what to weigh when considering them:


  • Expertise: These companies know the ropes and can navigate the complexities of record searching far better than most employers.
  • Efficiency: They can deliver comprehensive reports quickly, saving you time.
  • Peace of Mind: You won’t deal with the nitty-gritty yourself, leaving less room for error.


  • Cost: Quality doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay more for comprehensive and reliable services.
  • Trust: Make sure the third-party service has a good reputation. You’re entrusting them with sensitive information.

In summary, county records can be accessed online for convenience or in person for thoroughness. If the latter option seems too much to handle, third-party services can be a great alternative, provided you pick wisely.

Step 4: Analyzing the Data

Once you’ve gathered all the data, it’s time to dig in and understand what you’ve found. This is where the rubber meets the road, so let’s break down how to navigate the information effectively.

Interpreting Records

First, you’ll need to know what you’re looking at. County records can vary greatly in format and detail, but there are a few common types you should be familiar with:

  • Criminal Records: Look for details such as the type of offense, conviction status, and sentencing information. Depending on the nature of the job, a misdemeanor might be less significant than a felony.
  • Public Records: These may include anything from property ownership issues to civil lawsuits. Assess their relevance to the role. For instance, a civil litigation history may be less pertinent for some roles.
  • Arrest Records: An arrest does not always lead to a conviction. These should be considered cautiously and within the context of your hiring role.

Consistency is key when interpreting these records. Ensure you understand the legal language and context behind each record. When in doubt, consult legal counsel or a background check specialist.

Red Flags

So, what exactly constitutes a red flag? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Severe Criminal Offenses: Felonies, violent crimes, or repeated offenses are big red flags and may justify a closer examination.
  • Inconsistencies: Discrepancies between the information provided by the candidate and the records found can be a major cause for concern.
  • Patterns of Behavior: Repeated offenses, even minor ones, can indicate a pattern of risky or unreliable behavior.

If you do encounter a red flag, approach the situation thoughtfully. First, verify the accuracy of the record—mistakes can happen. If the record is accurate, evaluate the severity and context. Maybe even discuss it with the candidate to get their story.

Interpreting and analyzing county background check data can be tedious, but it’s necessary to ensure well-informed hiring decisions. Remember, the goal is not to find reasons to disqualify someone but to ensure you’re hiring the best candidate for the job.

Step 5: Making the Decision

Conducting a county background check is only half the battle; the real work is interpreting your findings and making a solid hiring decision.

Assessing Findings

First, take a step back and assess the relevance of your findings to the job requirements. For instance, a minor offense in someone’s past might be negligible for a warehouse job but could be a deal-breaker for financial positions. Always consider the context. A traffic violation probably isn’t a big deal unless the job involves driving.

Analyze the gravity and recency of any red flags you uncover. Are they isolated incidents or part of a pattern? A ten-year-old misdemeanor might be less of a concern than a recent felony. Weigh each finding with a balance of caution and fairness.

Documenting Decisions

Documenting your decision-making process isn’t just good practice; it’s crucial for legal compliance. Keep detailed records of what you found, how you interpreted it, and why you made your hiring decision. This will serve as a safeguard against any legal challenges.

Create a standardized form to document your findings and the rationale behind your decisions. This template can include fields for the applicant’s name, the position applied for, details of the findings, and notes on their relevance to the job role.

Store these records securely, respect privacy regulations, and ensure they are accessible for future reference or auditing.

In conclusion, deciding based on county background checks involves careful consideration and thorough documentation. By weighing the relevance of your findings and keeping detailed records, you can ensure a fair and legally sound hiring process.

FCRA Compliance

First, you must ensure that your background check process fully complies with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA outlines various requirements for employers who use third-party agencies to conduct background checks. This includes obtaining written consent from the candidate, providing them with a disclosure form that clarifies the scope of the background check, and ensuring that any information obtained is used solely for hiring decisions.

EEOC Guidelines

Next up are the guidelines set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). When using arrest and conviction records, you must ensure your practices don’t discriminate against protected groups. EEOC guidelines suggest that any criminal record information considered in hiring decisions must be job-related and consistent with business necessity. You should only weigh the criminal history relevant to the job in question.

Adverse Action Process

If your background check uncovers information influencing your decision against hiring a candidate, you must follow the adverse action process. This includes providing the applicant with a pre-adverse action notice, allowing them to review the background check report and dispute any inaccuracies. An adverse action notice must be sent based on the report if you decide not to hire. This notice must include the name and contact details of the agency that conducted the background check, a statement that the agency didn’t make the hiring decision, and information on the applicant’s right to dispute the report.

Navigating these legal waters can seem daunting, but adhering to FCRA and EEOC guidelines will help protect your organization from potential lawsuits and ensure a fair hiring process.


We’ve walked through the essentials of conducting a county background check, from understanding its importance to navigating the nuanced steps involved. To recap, county background checks unearth local records that broader checks might miss, providing a clearer picture of a candidate’s history. These checks incorporate various data, from criminal and arrest records to public and court documents.

Taking the time to execute these checks thoroughly can make a significant difference in your hiring outcomes. They help ensure you bring reliable, trustworthy individuals into your organization, safeguarding your team and your company’s reputation.

In today’s complex hiring landscape, it’s crucial to integrate county background checks into your screening process. Doing so helps you comply with legal standards and promotes a safer, more productive workplace environment. So, take the first step today. Equip your hiring process with the tools needed to make sound, informed decisions—because the right hire can propel your organization to new heights.