Background Reports

Workplace Investigations and the FCRA

Before a background check can be conducted on an applicant or employee, the FCRA requires that an employer (our client) provide a written disclosure form and obtain a signed authorization from the applicant or employee. While these requirements will apply to nearly all background checks, there are two situations in which the FCRA permits an employer to dispense with the disclosure and authorization requirements — an investigation of (1) suspected misconduct relating to employment or (2) compliance with federal, state, or local laws and regulations, the rules of a self-regulatory organization, or any preexisting written policies of the employer.

This alleviates the concern that providing the subject with advance disclosure of the investigation and obtaining the subject’s authorization to conduct the investigation would greatly hamper the investigation itself.

However, the FCRA does impose an obligation on the employer if adverse action, such as termination or suspension, is taken against the employee because of the investigation. In those situations, the FCRA requires the employer to provide the employee with a summary of the nature and substance of the investigation. Although the FCRA does not specify the time period within which the employer must provide the summary, it seems reasonable to provide it just after the adverse action is taken.

The FCRA does not require the employer to provide the employee with a copy of any report prepared for the investigation, nor does the FCRA require the employer to disclose in the summary the sources of the information obtained in the investigation. If co-workers, vendors, customers, or other individuals provided damaging information about the employee, their identities would not need to be disclosed to the employee in the FCRA summary.

August 11th, 2022|Compliance Corner|


Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) lawsuits continue to rise with the number of complaints filed in federal courts showing a +5.3% increase in 2020 over 2019[1]. This continues a trend for FCRA litigation as it has consistently shown year-over-year growth since 2010. An issue that garners much attention in FCRA litigation is whether an employer’s disclosure and authorization forms violate the FCRA. Two federal appellate decisions address this issue and provide important guidance for employers on how to draft FCRA disclosure and authorization forms.

FCRA Disclosure and Authorization Forms

Employers that want to obtain a background check report about a job applicant or current employee must comply with the FCRA and provide to the individual a standalone document with a clear and conspicuous disclosure of the employer’s intention to do so, and obtain the individual’s authorization. By way of background, the principal appellate opinion on disclosure and authorization forms is the Ninth Circuit’s Gilberg v. California Check Cashing Stores, LLC, No. No. 17-16263 (January 2019). The Gilberg opinion made clear that any extraneous information in an FCRA disclosure form violates the FCRA’s requirement that the disclosure must be “in a document that consists solely of the disclosure” (the standalone requirement). The employer in Gilberg was found to have violated the standalone requirement by:

  1. Combining the authorization and disclosure into one document; and
  2. Including several state-related disclosures in the form.

Two important cases from 2020 that further addressed the requirements and limitations for the content of an FCRA disclosure form were issued by the Ninth Circuit in Walker v. Fred Meyer, Inc., No. 18-35592 (March 20, 2020) and Luna v. Hansen & Adkins Transport, Inc., No. 18-55804, (April 24, 2020).

In Walker v. Fred Meyer, the court indicated that background check disclosures may contain some concise explanatory language, but there is a limit to what is explanatory and what is unlawfully extraneous. Among other allegations, the plaintiff in Walker claimed that the FCRA disclosure violated the standalone requirement because, in addition to mentioning consumer reports, it also mentioned investigative consumer reports (a type of consumer report). The Ninth Circuit rejected this claim and ruled that mentioning investigative background checks in the disclosure does not violate the FCRA’s standalone requirement because investigative consumer reports are a subcategory or specific type of consumer report and as long as the investigative background check disclosures are limited to (1) disclosing that such reports may be obtained for employment purposes and (2) providing a very brief description of what that means.

The Ninth Circuit reviewed the employer’s disclosure in Walker in detail, which consisted of five paragraphs, and held that the first three paragraphs did not violate the standalone requirement, but that the last two paragraphs did because they may pull the individual’s attention away from their privacy rights protected by the FCRA. Here are the offending paragraphs in their entirety:

“You may inspect GIS’s files about you (in person, by mail, or by phone) by providing identification to GIS. If you do, GIS will provide you help to understand the files, including communication with trained personnel and an explanation of any codes. Another person may accompany you by providing identification.”

“If GIS obtains any information by interview, you have the right to obtain a complete and accurate disclosure of the scope and nature of the investigation performed.”

The plaintiff in Walker also claimed that the language of the employer’s authorization form, which was in a separate document was confusing and underscored the confusing and distracting nature of disclosure form, thus violating the FCRA’s standalone requirement. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument because it found that the authorization form is not relevant to the FCRA disclosure form’s standalone requirement where the authorization is not included in the disclosure and is in a separate authorization form.

In Luna v. Hansen, the plaintiff claimed that the FCRA’s physical standalone requirement for hard-copy forms was a temporal one, i.e., the disclosure form should be presented to the individual separate from all other employment-related forms. The plaintiff in Luna had received one packet containing all forms. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument and held that as long as the background check disclosure itself is in a standalone form, it can be presented with and at the same time as other employment documents.

Key Takeaways

Given the steady uptick in FCRA litigation, it is advisable for employers to review their FCRA disclosure and authorization forms on at least a yearly basis, or whenever important appellate opinions are issued, to ensure compliance with the FCRA. The attached forms from the Gilberg and Walker opinions provide clear examples of what to avoid in FCRA disclosure forms. In general, the guidance provided in the above-referenced opinions indicate that:

  • background check disclosure forms may contain some concise explanatory language, but there is a limit to what is explanatory and what is unlawfully extraneous;
  • background check disclosure forms may be presented at the same time as other materials, including application materials, as long as the background check disclosures are on a separate form; and
  • language in a separate authorization form has no impact on the disclosure form’s compliance with the FCRA standalone requirement.

Disclaimer: This communication is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No recipient should act, or refrain from acting, based on any information provided here without advice from a qualified attorney licensed in the applicable jurisdiction.

Pre-Employment Screening during the Pandemic

It is a standard practice for employers to run background checks on potential new hires. Such checks help employers protect their company by learning about the trustworthiness of the candidate through their financial, criminal, and driving records and education and employment verifications. But the pandemic has affected the operations of many institutions worldwide. From court closures to remote college campuses, it may be more difficult for the screening provider to check a criminal record or verify an educational background. Nonetheless, the possibility of delay should not cause employers to lower the standards of their screening policies.

The most important reason why an employer should not temporarily waive certain parts of a background check is because it may make it harder to justify its necessity in the future. For example, say a court is closed and is unable to provide information on candidates’ criminal history. Because of this, an employer who is anxious to add the new hire to the frontline chooses to waive the criminal check requirement. Well, when a court begins to provide legal information again and an employer decides to reinstate the criminal check requirement, the employer could face compliance issues.

Under current anti-discrimination laws, namely Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must demonstrate that its hiring practices are “job related” and “consistent with business necessity.” But if an employer chooses to forgo the criminal checks during the pandemic and wishes to reinstate them later, they may be violating this law. Since the criminal check was once suspended, one could argue that the practice was not job related or that it was not a business necessity. Furthermore, streamlining the employment screening process by waiving certain aspects could lead an employer to overlook valuable insight into a candidate’s character. Therefore, while a shorter background check program during the pandemic could bring short-term benefits, it runs significant long-term risks.

So, what are your options?

We have outlined up two possible avenues available to employers during these times.

Hire now (but reserve the right to run future background checks)

If a company is in a position in which new hires are urgently needed, they may hire the candidates based on the information available to them at the time of the background check and reserve the right to conduct additional background checks post-hire, once information providers resume to normal operations. But if an employer takes this route, they must clearly communicate with both their background check provider and the new hire.

They should work with the background check provider to take note of those candidates whose checks are not yet completed so that the provider can easily revisit the report in the future. Employers should also make it clear in an employee’s offer letter that the offer of employment is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check that may occur at a later date.

Delay the hire

For employers who are required by law to complete background checks prior to a new hire’s start date, they may have to delay the worker’s start date. But whether a background check provider can access the required information for an employment screen depends on the location of the various sources of information, from the courthouses to the educational institutions.

All in all, although background checks may take longer during the pandemic, they are, especially now, critical to manage your risk. With the rising number of job seekers and the remote workforce, companies must do what they can to ensure that they are hiring qualified professionals who will be valuable additions to the company.

September 10th, 2020|Employment Decisions|
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