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delayed background check: why are background checks taking so long

When applying for a job, many people wonder ‘why is my background check taking so long to come back?’

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, but knowing the reasons that might delay background check results can help applicants avoid them.

Is it clear indicator of bad news?

Not Necessarily. But knowing the reasons for delays can help you to avoid negative consequences and react before your background check turns up something that harms your chances. It may seem obvious, but knowledge is power especially when your background is being searched.

Why Is My Background Check Screening Taking So Long to Come Back?

When a background check is delayed, the causes can stem from a number of issues, including the recent health crisis. But, normally it is caused by factors that either can, or cannot be controlled by the applicant.

It’s important to understand that each level of background check has its own time frame, and different types of background checks can take longer than others. While a level one background check could take less than 24 hours, others may take weeks to perform. On that note, it’s highly recommended to first read how long a background check takes on average in 2022 before continuing.

However, most companies will explain the ‘standard’ time required to complete a criminal history search and other background check, so when that time passes, many people start asking “why is my background check taking so long to come back?”

What Causes Delays on a Background Check?

Sometimes, background check results may be delayed due to reasons beyond the norm.

For example, recent health crises have disrupted normal processes for almost everything. Particularly, employers in industries such as retail supermarkets and healthcare have experienced seasonal hiring spikes. When these surges occur, the state and federal offices responsible for dispersing and sorting criminal records receive a large number of requests, resulting in delays.

Moreover, lock downs have increased remote working conditions, and it’s sometimes the case that background check providers have had to deal with interruptions in normal operations. If an individual or business submits a screening request to an office that has been shut down by mandates, a background check can take longer. 1

Pandemic problems are not the only thing that can cause a background check to be delayed. The following problems are common, but many can be avoided by making sure that everything is conducted and filled out properly.

Background Check Delay #1. Inaccurate or Incomplete Background Check Application Forms and Fingerprinting

The most common issue that causes a background check to take a long time to come back is incomplete or inaccurate information.

The forms filled out by the applicant must be completed in their entirety, and that information must then be entered into background check systems correctly. Data entry errors and other issues, like a smudged fingerprint, can lengthen the time it takes to process a background check request. Common mistakes include:

  • Misspelled Names
  • Wrong Date of Birth
  • Incorrect Social Security Number
  • Missing Middle Name
  • Unclear Fingerprints

In order to prevent fingerprint issues on level 2 and healthcare background checks, applicants should use a trusted fingerprinting service to perform the task.

Many electronic digital fingerprinting services are now used by a number of states to speed up the background check process, and prevent inaccurate fingerprint scans.

Background checks often include inaccurate information from data entry errors, but the law enables individuals to dispute erroneous information on a background check using supporting documentation.

Background Check Delay #2. Problems Accessing Court Records

Background checking involves completing multiple, distinct screening of court records and other public records. Difficulties in accessing these records can cause a delay in processing a background check.

For example, getting access to some public records requires a manual request, which depending on how busy a specific county or court clerk is, can cause background check delays.

In addition, a clerk’s office may be understaffed, especially due to government shutdowns. Such a situation could cause requests to pile up. 2

Background Check Delay #3. Unforeseeable Disruptions

Unpredictable occurrences often cause unwanted delays on a background check. A good example is weather conditions, including storms, floods, to hurricanes, which may render an information center physically inaccessible. Other disruptions include;

  • Former Employer Fails to Cooperate with Requests
  • Worker Strikes
  • Internet outages

Background Check Delay #4. Restrictions and Legalities

Legal restrictions surrounding background checks vary by local, state, federal, and institutional levels, all of which store and control public records. These agencies operate using restrictions and legal guidelines designed to protect personal information. But, they can also delay records requests.

This is particularly true when a screening company used by an employer or organization must search multiple jurisdictions. For instance, if the applicant has lived in various states within the past seven years, or has lived and worked out of the country.

Background Check Delay #5. National Holidays

A background check can take longer than normal when the application coincides with a public holiday, like the Memorial Day and other federally-recognized holidays. Government institutions, including courts, do not work on federal holidays so the processing of a records request can be delayed.

Background Check Delay #6. Records Storage

Most government and private record keeping institutions have embraced technology-based methods of storing, organizing, and accessing public records. However, some agencies and smaller counties still rely on paper based requests.

These manual requests take longer, increasing the time it takes for a background check. This could be even more problematic if the center in question is understaffed due to the recent stresses on the healthcare system, and the few available employees have to sort large quantities of files to locate the right ones. 3

Background Check Delay #7. Higher Levels of Searches

Unfortunately, this type of delay is a normal part of undergoing a background check higher than level 2. For example, some corporate level positions require credit checks and increased dives into personal history, based on the reason for conducting the background check.

Depending on the type of check involved, the time it takes to process the results is generally related to how much information is being searched. For example, a FBI background check (used for positions that involve national security) may include personal interviews with family and friends, which naturally increases the time it takes to conduct and complete.

What If My Background Check is Taking Longer Than Usual? (Identifying Issues)

Wondering, ‘why is my background check taking so long to come back,’ is usually caused by the process taking longer than it’s supposed to, according to estimates. Fortunately, most of the problems are avoidable.

Some common issues include:

  • Conflicting employment history, prompting the officials to conduct more research.
  • Delays caused by the background company in charge of the screening
  • Mismatch of personal information provided against system records. An example is if a person no longer identifies with a specific gender, yet the government still recognizes them as a specific gender.
  • Discrepancies within the records, like botched fingerprints that do not correspond with the other information. The screening officials may want to take time to establish the root cause of the issue.
  • Common names like John Q. Smith, causing unwanted confusion.

Avoid these common problems by ensuring that full middle names are included, and that the information provided on the background check request forms is accurate.

Can a Candidate Control the Information That Comes Back on a Criminal Background Check?

A public record doesn’t change, but that doesn’t mean that an applicant can’t have control over what is reported on a criminal background check.

Various laws from government bodies, like the Fair Credit reporting Act, and the Federal Trade Commission control and inhibit access to various elements of a background check. Normally these laws are enforced to ensure that employers and other interested parties do not misuse records, and that the applicant’s personal privacy is protected.

An individual may have control over the what is revealed during a criminal background check in the following ways:

Expungement

Expungement involves permanently deleting certain criminal records. Each state has its own criteria to govern eligibility for expungement. But rather common reasons include:

  • If charges were dismissed before sentencing
  • The person completed deferred disposition rules
  • Probation, or a sentence was served successfully, and the person did not engage in further criminal activities since the case ended
  • Pardon

The procedure to have certain criminal activities expunged or sealed involves filing a petition, attending court sessions as advised by judges, and essentially completing a clean waiting time before getting reviewed. But this does not come cheap as there are fees involved. 4

Record Sealing

Sealing records means that the records are preserved away from public access, but can be retrieved if an employer obtains a court order to access them. Part of that compliance is acquiring consent from the subject.

However, it’s important to note that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government agencies can access sealed records.

Conducting a Criminal Background Check on Yourself Beforehand

An individual can conduct a criminal background check on themselves to prevent any discrepancies and check available records to see if they are accurate. Either contact a reputable background check provider to perform the search, or manually check public records using the steps below.

A person may obtain their criminal information from their local police department, but this will only contain certain records, such as arrests and recent convictions.5

  1. Simply navigate online to the city police department or county sheriff’s office.
  2. Search for “background check” or “criminal records check.” (Tip: Look at the menu at the top of the page for a “forms” or records” link)
  3. Follow the instructions provided.

Some cities and counties offer online records requests, while others, like Philadelphia, require applicants to send the printed form, a copy of their fingerprints, and the fee required for the check.

Criminal Records from the FBI

An individual can gain access to their nationwide records by submitting a request to the Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) which operates under the FBI.

The application starts by downloading the FBI ink card and using the services of a live scan firm to record fingerprints. After filling the fingerprints and completing all the forms, the person should go ahead to pay $18 to the Treasury of the United States. Once everything is ready, they should mail it to the following address.5

FBI CJIS Division: Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

There is also an option for those who prefer to submit the request online.

The FBI provides instructions on how to conduct a background check on yourself using fingerprints.

Before submitting, just be sure to understand how long a FBI background check takes (even longer than the time for a fingerprint background check).

Acquiring Records from the State

To access public court records from the state (or any other public records) there are typically a few agencies to check. Each state outlines the procedure for obtaining records, based on the laws dictating the process.

For instance, in California, criminal records are controlled by the CA Department of Justice, and state residents can access their records by sending their digital fingerprints along with the request.

The state website outlines the full process for making a criminal history request, and provides all the links and forms needed to process the search.

Other states offer online name-based records searches, which can be found by searching the state court clerk’s office. 6

Most records kept by local courts are available for inspection, but sensitive data is often hidden from the public. The subject can access their records by following the procedures outlined by the specific local clerk.

Check State and Federal Sex Offender Registries

Searching state and local sex offender registries is an easy online process that anyone can conduct.

Simply type in the name of the state being searched, along with the words “sex offender registry.” Or, use the official list of state registries controlled by the FBI. By following links from this page, users can be sure to avoid scams or unscrupulous clickbait.

Once on the registry page, simply type in the name to generate the search results.

The same process can be used on the national offender’s registry.

There are a number of factors that can impact why background check results might be delayed. For anyone asking “why is my background check taking so long to come back,” the answer can be discovered by performing a background check on yourself to see if any discrepancies exist before an official search is conducted.