Does a Termination Show Up in a Background Check?

by Ruth Mayhew - Updated October 25, 2018
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Many employers require more than an application, a resume and a couple of interviews to determine whether you're a suitable candidate. In addition to job skills and qualifications, a prospective employer will often conduct a background check to ensure that the decision to hire you is a wise one. Background checks can reveal information such as whether you have a criminal record or if your financial situation is such that you might pose an unnecessary risk to the company.

Tips

  • Termination from a previous job is unlikely to show up on a routine background check but if an employer asks you to provide a reason for leaving a previous employer, you must tell him.

Why Do Employers Use Background Checks?

In 2017, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners published research that reveals 96 percent of employers rely on background checks or other types of pre-employment background investigations. During the application process, employers generally ask applicants to agree to a background check as a condition of employment. And even after the person is hired, the results of a background check may be reason for termination. Employment in many sectors of the federal government require extensive background checks as just one phase of the security clearance process. The primary reason so many employers use background checks is to add a layer of protection for the company and for potential coworkers and clients.

What Kind of Checks Will an Employer Run?

The usual background check includes a search of local, state and national databases to determine whether you have a criminal record. In some cases, you will need to submit fingerprints for an extensive criminal record search. In addition, some background checks could also include scanning your Social Security number to determine whether you have credit or financial issues that might increase the risk of hiring you for a position that involves handling money or financial instruments. Verification of your academic credentials and driving record, and drug and alcohol testing are also part of some background checks.

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Will a Termination Show Up on a Background Check?

Termination from a previous job is unlikely to show up on a routine background check, but there are instances that might come to light. Some employment applications ask you to provide a reason for leaving your current employer, for example, and some employers specifically ask whether you have ever been terminated from a job. Truthfulness in answering these questions is critical. You might not be disqualified for a job because you have been previously terminated, but if you have been fired and you don't tell the truth about it, you could jeopardize your continued employment if you have started a new job. If you disclose that you were, in fact, terminated from a previous job, you will probably be asked to explain the circumstances about your firing. In this case, whether the termination shows up on a background check is a moot point, because you've already provided the information the company wants.

What is a Background Investigation?

Generally speaking, a background investigation is more extensive than a background check. If a prospective employer conducts an extensive investigation into your work history, it's possible the results will reveal a termination. Background investigations can be costly and lengthy, which is why many employers stick to a simple background check. Nevertheless, it can mean engaging an investigator to probe into your background by contacting previous employers, checking social media sites and talking to your references. If a termination in your work history was a high-profile one, an investigator who peruses news articles and other publicly available information might uncover the reason for the termination. A high-profile termination might involve criminal action or a serious ethics violation.

Should I Make a Full Disclosure?

If you're concerned that a previous termination will prevent you from getting the job you want, consider making a full disclosure once you get to the final phase of the selection process. This way, you have already demonstrated that you're the best candidate. By coming forward with the information before the company does a background check or investigation, you show that you're forthcoming. If you choose to disclose that you were fired from a previous job, don't bad-mouth the company even if you think your termination was unjustified. Take responsibility for your actions and explain what you learned from the termination.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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