Background checks are a routine part of many hiring processes intended to give employers a clear picture of a candidate’s history. But what happens if you have an outstanding warrant? In this guide, we’ll examine whether warrants appear on background checks and how this can impact your job prospects.

Key Takeaways

  1. Whether warrants appear on background checks depends on the type of warrant and the scope of the background check.
  2. Active warrants are more likely to show up than resolved or expired warrants.
  3. Bench warrants (issued for failure to appear in court) may not always appear on standard background checks.
  4. Federal and state-level warrants are more likely to be discovered than local warrants.
  5. The comprehensiveness of the background check, including whether it includes court records searches, affects the likelihood of warrants being revealed.
  6. Employers and individuals should be aware that warrant information can impact hiring decisions and take appropriate steps to address any issues.

What is a Background Check?

A background check is an organization’s systematic process to verify the authenticity and integrity of a candidate’s provided information. This process often seeks to uncover any potential red flags that might affect the applicant’s eligibility for a role. At its core, a background check serves as a safeguard for employers, aiming to ensure the safety, reliability, and suitability of potential hires.

Common Elements: Background checks aren’t a one-size-fits-all operation but typically encompass a few key components. These usually include a review of criminal records to detect any past legal issues, an examination of credit reports (especially for roles involving financial responsibility), verification of employment history to confirm the accuracy of a candidate’s resume, and educational verification to ensure that the candidate’s academic credentials are genuine.

Purpose: The underlying goal is straightforward: maintaining a secure and trustworthy work environment. Employers want to reduce potential risks from legal liabilities, financial mismanagement, or workplace safety issues. By conducting thorough background checks, employers make informed hiring decisions protecting the organization and its existing employees.

What is a Warrant?

A warrant is a legal instrument issued by a judicial authority, typically a judge or magistrate, that empowers law enforcement to execute a particular action. Warrants are crucial tools within the justice system to uphold the law while respecting individual rights. Here are the main types of warrants you should know about:

  • Arrest Warrants: These are issued when law enforcement has probable cause to believe that an individual has committed a crime. They authorize the arrest and detention of the person named in the warrant.
  • Bench Warrants: Often issued when someone fails to appear in court as required, bench warrants give law enforcement the authority to arrest the individual for non-compliance with court orders.
  • Search Warrants: These permit law enforcement to search a specific location for evidence of a crime. Unlike arrest and bench warrants, search warrants do not directly impact an individual’s criminal record but can lead to the discovery of evidence that does.

Understanding the nature of warrants is essential because they carry serious legal implications and can adversely affect various aspects of your life, including employment opportunities. If you have an outstanding warrant, it will likely appear on a background check, potentially raising red flags for employers and complicating your job search.

Do Warrants Show Up on Background Checks?

General Rule

When it comes to background checks, the general rule is straightforward: yes, warrants can show up. However, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. The likelihood of a warrant appearing on your background check can hinge on various factors.

Types of Background Checks

Different background checks can yield different results:

  • Standard Criminal Checks: These are your basic background checks, typically covering county or state databases. They are pretty good at picking up warrants.
  • Federal Checks: Conducted at the federal level, these checks can pull in broader, sometimes more detailed, data, including nationwide warrants.
  • State Checks: These only show records from that particular state. If your warrant exists in another state, it might not appear.

Database Limitations

The information that appears on a background check is only as good as the database from which it is sourced. Many databases have limitations:

  • Jurisdictional Coverage: Not all databases cover every jurisdiction equally. Smaller, localized databases might miss warrants from outside their coverage area.
  • Update Frequency: Some databases update more frequently than others. If a database hasn’t been updated recently, it might miss newer warrants.
  • Integration: Different systems (local, state, federal) might not always communicate well, causing discrepancies in reported information.

In sum, while warrants typically show up on background checks, the extent to which they appear—and the detail they reveal—can vary widely. Factors such as the type of background check and the comprehensiveness and currency of the databases used play crucial roles.

Factors That Influence Whether a Warrant Appears

Type of Warrant

  • Arrest Warrants: Arrest warrants are essentially a part of one’s criminal record, and they are highly likely to show up in a background check. This is because an arrest warrant indicates an active attempt to detain someone due to suspicion of committing a crime. Employers conducting thorough criminal background checks will generally detect these.
  • Bench Warrants: These warrants are typically issued when a person fails to appear in court or violates other court orders. Since bench warrants are linked to legal non-compliance, which many employers view negatively, they tend to appear on background checks.
  • Search Warrants: These are less likely to appear on a background check because they are related to property searches rather than direct actions against an individual. Unless a resulting criminal charge is tied to the search warrant, it usually won’t be flagged during a standard background screening.


  • Local vs. National: The scope of the background check matters significantly. A local background check might reveal warrants filed within the same city or county, whereas a national background check can potentially uncover warrants from different states. However, not all local warrants are entered into national databases, which can create gaps in the information available.
  • Database Coverage: The comprehensiveness and update frequency of the databases being searched greatly influence whether a warrant surfaces. Some jurisdictions might not report timely updates to their databases, making it possible for a warrant to go unnoticed during a check. Furthermore, private background check companies might not have access to all government records, which can impact the thoroughness of their reports.

Employer’s Background Check Policy

  • Depth of Check: The extent to which an employer decides to delve into an applicant’s background can vary. While some employers might only perform basic checks, others might invest in more detailed investigations. For example, jobs in finance or positions requiring a security clearance often involve rigorous background checks that are more likely to uncover outstanding warrants.
  • Legal Obligations: Certain industries have statutory requirements mandating comprehensive background checks. For instance, healthcare, childcare, or law enforcement positions typically mandate more stringent background checks. Therefore, the likelihood of a warrant showing up will be higher in these sectors due to legal scrutiny.

It’s essential to understand that these factors collectively determine the visibility of a warrant in a background check. Depending on the type of job and the industry norms, the standards for background checks might vary, thereby influencing the outcomes significantly.

Factors That Influence Whether a Warrant Appears

Type of Warrant

  • Arrest Warrants: These are the most straightforward when it comes to background checks. Arrest warrants are generally issued when there’s probable cause that a person has committed a crime. Because they’re directly tied to an individual’s criminal record, they almost always show up on background checks. If you have an outstanding arrest warrant, it’s likely to be detected unless the database being searched is exceptionally outdated or incomplete.
  • Bench Warrants: Issued by a judge when someone fails to comply with court orders—like missing a court date or not paying a fine—bench warrants also commonly appear on background checks. These can signal to potential employers that you’ve had trouble adhering to legal responsibilities, which can be a significant red flag.
  • Search Warrants: Unlike arrest and bench warrants, search warrants are focused on searching a location rather than arresting an individual. Because they are more property-centric and less about the person, search warrants rarely show up on background checks. They’re generally not included in the criminal history databases employers typically consult.

By understanding these distinctions, you can gauge the likelihood of a warrant appearing on your background check and take steps accordingly. Adjusting your approach based on the type of warrant can help you better prepare for employment screenings.


  • Local vs. National: The presence of a warrant on a background check can hinge significantly on jurisdiction. Local warrants may be recorded only within specific municipal or county databases. This means they might not appear on national background checks, which aggregate data from multiple jurisdictions. As a result, if an employer only conducts a national background check and doesn’t tap into local databases, an outstanding local warrant might go unnoticed.
  • Database Coverage: Different regions maintain various databases with varying levels of thoroughness and frequency of updates. Some jurisdictions might not regularly update state or national databases, leading to gaps in information. Additionally, smaller municipalities might not even have comprehensive digital records. This fragmentation can create scenarios where a warrant doesn’t appear during a background check, depending on which databases are consulted.

Understanding how jurisdiction impacts background check outcomes is crucial. It underscores the importance of being proactive in addressing local legal issues, as relying on the assumption that a warrant might go unnoticed can be risky.

Employer’s Background Check Policy

  • Depth of Check: The level of background scrutiny can vary widely from one employer to another. Some might only perform basic checks, focusing on criminal history or employment verification. Others, especially in industries like finance or healthcare, could opt for in-depth checks, including searching multiple databases and conducting interviews.
  • Legal Obligations: Certain sectors are legally mandated to conduct comprehensive background checks. For example, schools, hospitals, and federal agencies often have strict guidelines requiring exhaustive screenings to ensure a safe and compliant working environment. These thorough checks increase the likelihood that any outstanding warrants will be discovered, regardless of jurisdictional nuances.

Understanding the nuances of an employer’s background check policy can help you prepare better for the hiring process, ensuring there are no surprises that might affect your job prospects.

Impact of a Warrant on Your Background Check

An outstanding warrant can significantly affect your job prospects and lead to legal ramifications. Here’s how:

  • Employment Opportunities: When a warrant appears on your background check, it’s often seen as a major red flag for potential employers. Companies prioritize maintaining a safe and trustworthy workforce, and an outstanding warrant can signal potential risk. This could lead to employers hesitating to extend a job offer or, in some cases, withdrawing an offer already made.
  • Legal Consequences: Aside from employment setbacks, an outstanding warrant discovered during a background check can result in immediate legal action. Authorities may be notified, and you could face arrest or be required to comply with court orders without further delay.
  • Pass or Fail: The ability to pass a background check with a warrant largely depends on the employer’s policies and the nature of the warrant. Some businesses have strict guidelines that automatically disqualify candidates with any legal issues, while others may consider the context and severity of the offense before making a decision.

Ultimately, a warrant on your background check can create considerable legal and professional hurdles. Understanding the ramifications and addressing the issue head-on can help you navigate these challenges more effectively.

What to Do if You Have a Warrant

So, you found out you have a warrant. First step? Don’t panic—but don’t ignore it, either. Here are some practical steps to take:

Get in touch with a legal professional ASAP. They can provide the most accurate, tailored advice for your situation. Lawyers can help you understand your rights, potential consequences, and the best action to address the warrant. Self-representing might seem like a good way to save money, but the stakes are too high for a DIY approach.

Resolve the Warrant

Once you have legal counsel, take immediate steps to clear the warrant. This could involve appearing in court, paying fines, or completing other legal requirements. The quicker you resolve the issue, the better. An outstanding warrant is a ticking time bomb for your legal status and job prospects.


While it might be tempting to keep quiet, honesty is sometimes the best policy. If an employer is likely to find out about your warrant through a background check, it can be beneficial to be upfront about it. Explain the circumstances, what you’re doing to resolve the situation, and how you take responsibility for your actions. This won’t guarantee a job, but it can soften the blow and show you’re not trying to hide anything.

Addressing a warrant is stressful, but these steps can put you on the right track. The key is to act swiftly and responsibly. Ignoring the issue won’t make it disappear—it only worsens it.

Legal considerations are paramount when it comes to background checks and warrants. One key piece of legislation you need to be aware of is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA sets out guidelines to protect individuals during the background check process, ensuring the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of the information used.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

The FCRA is a federal law that governs how consumer information, including background checks, must be handled. Employers must obtain written consent from you before conducting a background check. Moreover, if any negative information, such as an outstanding warrant, is discovered, resulting in an adverse employment decision, the employer is required to follow a series of steps:

  1. Pre-Adverse Action Notice: Before taking any adverse action (like not hiring you), the employer must provide you with a copy of the background check report and a summary of your rights under the FCRA. This allows you to review the information and correct any inaccuracies.
  2. Waiting Period: Employers must allow you a reasonable period to contest any discrepancies in the report. While the FCRA doesn’t stipulate an exact timeframe, five business days is commonly observed.
  3. Adverse Action Notice: If the employer decides to proceed with the adverse action, they must provide you with a final notice, including the contact information of the agency that provided the report, a statement that the agency did not make the employment decision, and your right to get a free copy of the report within 60 days.

Your Rights

Knowing your rights under the FCRA can help you navigate the complexities of background checks more effectively:

  • Disclosure: You are entitled to be informed when a background check is used against you.
  • Authorization: Employers need your explicit consent to run most background checks.
  • Dispute: If you find inaccuracies in your background check, you have the right to file a dispute with the reporting agency to correct it.
  • Access: You can request a copy of your background check report from the agency, usually for free once a year.

Understanding these legal considerations can help protect your interests if an outstanding warrant appears during a background check. Always remain proactive by checking your records and resolving potential issues. This ensures that you are not caught off guard during an employment process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Pass a Background Check with a Warrant?

It depends on several factors, such as the type of warrant and the employer’s specific policies. Some employers might be more lenient depending on the nature of the warrant and its relevance to the job role.

Do Background Checks Show Warrants in All States?

Not necessarily. Warrants might not show up uniformly across all states due to jurisdictional differences and variances in database comprehensiveness. This inconsistency can affect the detection of warrants during background checks.

How Can I Check if I Have an Outstanding Warrant?

To check for an outstanding warrant, contact your local law enforcement agency or consult a legal professional who can guide you. In some jurisdictions, online databases may also be available for public access.


Warrants can appear on background checks, and their presence can significantly impact your employment prospects. Understanding the factors influencing this and taking appropriate steps can help you manage the situation effectively. Always prioritize resolving any legal issues and maintaining transparency with potential employers.

For more information on how long background checks take and what employers look for, you can refer to this guide.