How to Dispute a Failed Background Check

Last Updated:
April 7, 2023

Employers use background checks to examine the employment, criminal, and other background elements of job candidates all the time. In most cases, background checks go smoothly. But from time to time, a job seeker might find that they’ve failed the background check, meaning they might miss out on an otherwise excellent job opportunity.

If this has happened to you, and you’ve failed a background check, remember that you don’t have to accept that outcome by default. If, for instance, you think your background check has returned with inaccurate information, you have the right to dispute those results. Read on to learn how to dispute a failed background check and why you might consider doing so.

What Are Failed Background Checks?

Failed background checks are any background checks that a candidate “fails” by not meeting employer requirements or by including negative information the employer wants to avoid. Here are some examples of failed background checks:

  • A job seeker applies to a teaching position, which requires a bachelor’s degree in education or a related topic. Unfortunately, the background check shows that the job candidate doesn’t have the relevant degree, though they are denied the opportunity on the basis of the failed background check
  • An employer looks at a candidate’s background check. However, the open position requires the job candidate to handle a lot of money. Based on the criminal records present on the background check report, the employer denies the candidate the job opportunity since they don’t find them to be trustworthy
  • A job seeker applies for a waiter job. But the background check results turn up erroneous information like the wrong Social Security number. Given this confusion, the employer decides to err on the side of caution and fails the background check automatically

In each of these situations, failed background checks resulted in lost job opportunities for job candidates. Indeed, failed background checks can be devastating and difficult to deal with in real life, so it’s important to know what to do if or when you fail a background check.

Why Do Candidates Fail Background Checks?

Job candidates can fail background checks for many different reasons. For instance, maybe they accidentally provided the wrong Social Security number, so the background screening agency found the wrong background info when performing the screening service.

Or, maybe the job candidate has a criminal record. Their records of criminal activities prevent them from qualifying for many high-quality positions, even though they have a degree and a stellar record otherwise.

In other cases, background screening agencies – the third-party organizations that provide background check services for employers, such as Checkr – make mistakes. Those mistakes can cost job candidates valuable job opportunities, force them to continue a job hunt, or otherwise cause harm.

A background check agency can make a range of mistakes, such as:

  • Confusing one candidate’s identity with that of another person. This is more common if the candidate has a very common name in their area or culture
  • Finding and using out-of-date or erroneous information in a background check report. For instance, a background screening agency might find a record of a bankruptcy 20 years prior. Even though it shouldn't, the agency lazily includes that information in the background screening report without noting the 20-year date

In any case, erroneous background check information is always something to pay attention to. As an American citizen, you are entitled to complete, accurate, and up-to-date background check information. More importantly, employers are only supposed to use accurate background check information when making hiring decisions.

Why Might You Dispute a Failed Background Check?

According to the FCRA or Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to dispute a failed background check on the basis of erroneous or inaccurate information. You might dispute a failed background check if you think your background check report has false information that has impacted your prospective employer’s hiring decision.

Say that you apply to a position with great pay and good benefits. Your interview goes swimmingly, and the employer seems likely to offer you the position. However, a few days pass, and your employer suddenly seems a lot more tentative. They reference issues with your background check. When you receive your background check report, you notice erroneous information that could be impacting the hiring decision.

Therefore, it’s in your best interest to dispute the failed background check ASAP. If you dispute the background check quickly enough, you can inform your employer that they’ve received erroneous information and should reconsider their hiring decision. 

Under the rules and regulations outlined by the FCRA, background screening agencies must:

  • Do their best to provide only fair, accurate, and honest background information to employers and clients
  • Investigate dispute claims within 30 days of receiving the claims
  • Reply to claimants within five business days of locating erroneous information or making a decision

Remember, every background screening agency has to do this. No matter who does your background check service, you will have grounds to file a legal dispute.

Disputing a Failed Background Check Step-by-Step

Now you know why you might dispute a failed background check, let’s break down how you can do just that step-by-step.

Step 1 – Wait for a Pre-Adverse or Adverse Action Letter

Your first step as a job applicant is to wait for a pre-adverse or adverse action letter. A pre-adverse action letter is a legally required document sent by an employer to a prospective employee if the employer is considering not offering them employment on the basis of background or credit information.

Put more simply, if your prospective employer is reconsidering a hiring decision, they have to tell you that through a pre-adverse action letter. Then, if your employer decides not to offer you a job, they must send you an adverse action letter explaining that fact.

The adverse action letter will include their explanation, though it does not need to include the details. For instance, an employer can say that they have denied you employment because of your background check, and not go into details about what element of your background check caused the decision.

In any case, the adverse action letter is the first major piece of evidence you need to begin the dispute process. 

Step 2 – Look for Errors Carefully

Once you receive a pre-adverse or adverse action letter, read through it carefully. If your employer has included background check information, pore over it to see if there is any inaccurate information that could have caused you to fail the check.

Alternatively, remember that all pre-adverse and adverse action letters must, by law, include the contact information for the background screening agency that provided the service. For example, if your prospective employer used Checkr, a popular background screening agency, to make the background check, you’ll see that in the adverse action letter.

In addition, your adverse or pre-adverse action letter should include a copy of the background screening report and its major points. If it doesn’t, you can contact the background screening agency to request a copy of the background check report yourself.

Step 3 – Contact the Background Check Agency

In any case, your next step is to contact the background screening agency. Your adverse action letter should include the screening agency’s contact information, including their email address, phone number, website, and any other relevant info.

Check out the screening agency’s website and FAQ page. They may explain more about the process and resources they use to provide background screening services, which can make the dispute process go more smoothly in the future.

Step 4 – File a Dispute with the Background Check Agency

Furthermore, every background screening agency needs to include ways for consumers to dispute their background check reports. The majority of modern agencies offer online portals or email pages where you can send them a thorough, comprehensive dispute letter or email breaking down your issue.

You can alternatively file a dispute letter with the background check agency by mail. On the same page that you can find the online filing method, most screening agencies also include physical mailing addresses for just this purpose.

It’s always a good idea to file a dispute with a background check agency online if possible, though. This way, the screening agency gets your information more quickly, so you’ll also get a resolution more rapidly than otherwise.

Step 5 – Wait for a Response

Under the terms of the FCRA, a background screening agency must investigate dispute reports it receives within 30 business days. “Business days,” of course, only count regular weekdays that aren’t federal holidays.

You must now wait for a response from the background check agency. If the agency doesn’t reply or investigate the issue within 30 days, you could have grounds for a lawsuit or a complaint to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

Normally, a background check agency will investigate a dispute claim, find erroneous information, and correct the information quickly. Then, the background check agency will contact your prospective employer and explain that they make a mistake.

Step 6 (Optional) – Contact Background Check Error Attorneys for Further Actions

Sometimes, background check agencies refuse to investigate dispute claims. In others, even if they investigate dispute claims, they might refuse to correct erroneous or out-of-date information. They force job candidates to maintain failed background check statuses.

This is flatly illegal according to federal legislation. If this happens to you, you don’t have to stop. You can contact knowledgeable background check error attorneys to further understand your legal actions.

In many cases, you can take background check agencies to court or arbitration. In these environments, you can force them to fix erroneous information or pay you monetary damages for lost income or job opportunities. It’s always a good idea to pursue these auctions with knowledgeable attorneys on your side – this is the best way to protect yourself and choose the best path forward for your finances and family.

What if a Dispute Fails?

A dispute fails, it’s either because the background screening agency doesn’t think that the information is inaccurate or because it has not investigated your dispute claim at all. If the background check agency has investigated your claim in under 30 days, and is thus not in violation of the FCRA, but still disagrees with you, you can then sue them.

Background check agencies can and do make mistakes. With the right attorneys working with you, you can prove that this is the case and take the background screening agency to court in order to recover damages.

What Happens After a Dispute Resolution?

If you file a dispute letter with a background check agency and they correct the erroneous information, your employer might be willing to give you another shot at the job a previously denied you. However, that employer is not forced to change its initial decision, even if it knows the truth about the information it uses.

This can be disheartening and frustrating. However, remember that it's a good idea for you to correct the erroneous information anyway. Even if you are denied employment in the immediate future with this particular employer, fixing the mistaken information will help your job search going forward.

With fixed information, background check agencies won’t make the same mistakes. You won’t have, for instance, mistaken criminal records following you around as you search for employment elsewhere. However, an employer cannot outright deny you employment on the basis of false background information, so if they try to do that, speak to your attorneys about further legal actions.

Contact Fair Credit Today

Ultimately, you have the right to fair and accurate background and credit information, and employers may only use accurate background check info when making hiring decisions. If you think you've failed the background check because of inaccurate information, contact Fair Credit today.

Our experienced attorneys can dive deep into your background check report, help you file a dispute with the background check agency, and provide a wide variety of other assistance. Call us today for a free consultation and more information.

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