Wondering how background checks work in the State of Montana? Then you have come to the right place! In the following article, we will be looking at all the ins and outs of Montana background checks, including how to get one, what sorts of information they check, and the relevant laws and statutes that cover them federally as well as locally in Montana.
Laws and statutes covering Montana background checks
There are numerous reasons why you may want to run a background check on someone in Montana, or for you to be subject to one. The most common reason for a background is as part of pre-employment screening, but they are also commonly used in rental situations, for loan applicants, and for people wishing to purchase a firearm.
While there are federal regulations that apply to background checks nationwide, each state also has its own laws and statutes governing the legal use of these checks, and Montana is, of course, no exception. Let’s first have a look at federal umbrella laws on background checks and then delve into the legal ramifications of these checks specific to the State of Montana.
Federal Fair Credit Reporting (FCR) Legislation
The Fair Credit Reporting Act, also known as the FCRA, was enacted in 1970 to protect both employers and employees in terms of how information can be used for hiring and even promotion purposes. As federal legislation, this applies to all 50 states, though most states, including Montana, also have their own credit reporting statutes.
The FCRA requires that employers who wish to screen applicants with a background check must inform the applicants of this intention, indicating what information the check will include and how this information is to be used. Employers must also obtain a candidate’s written consent before conducting the check.
In addition, employers must provide applicants with a pre-adverse action notice and a copy of the credit report they have accessed in case they choose not to hire the applicant. They are also required to give him or her a chance to dispute any information in the report that they deem inaccurate or incorrect.
Gilberg v. California Check Cashing Stores, LLC
Although this case was heard in California, the ultimate decision was made in the 9th Circuit Court, under whose jurisdiction Montana falls. The case, which directly relates to compliance with FCRA requirements to inform individuals about intended background checks, resulting in a stricter interpretation of some clauses of the act.
Essentially, the ruling requires that employers issue two standalone disclosures, one pertaining to the FCRA and the other to California’s Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act or other applicable state legislation. The disclosures must inform applicants of the background check without so-called surplus language, as well as using “clear and conspicuous” language.
Montana Code 2003 31-3-112
Although Montana’s state-level laws are not particularly strict regarding background checks, this code stipulates that consumer reporting agencies are prohibited from using consumer reports that contain certain information that is older than seven years from the date it is accessed. This includes criminal details such as arrest and conviction records whose disposition, release, or parole date go seven years back or more.
Unlike the majority of US states, Montana has not enacted any ban-the-box laws, which prohibit or restrict employers from soliciting an applicant’s criminal history on job applications. This means that employers in the state are within their rights to ask about arrests and convictions at any stage in their pre-employment screening process.
Employers are still, however, beholden to both the FCRA requirements and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects an individual against employment discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, and national origin.
How do I get a background check in Montana?
There are two types of background checks in Montana, namely name-based checks and fingerprint-based checks. The former, in which searches are limited to public criminal records in the state, use an individual’s name, social security number, and date of birth to run the search.
The latter, on the other hand, is far more comprehensive, as it scans information not only in Montana but in other states, as well. The option also exists to cross-reference federal fingerprint-linked records so long as the requester is authorized to access this information.
Montana-based employers can solicit a name-based background check by first registering as authorized users with the Montana Department of Justice’s Criminal History Online Public Record Search service. They can then use the service via the Montana Department of Justice’s website. Searches are conducted using a person’s name and any potential aliases, and his or her social security number and date of birth.
Employers also have the option of a mail-in request, which can be sent to the Montana Criminal Records office along with payment.
Fingerprint-based checks are only available as a mail-in service. The individual’s fingerprints must be submitted physically for processing. Fingerprint cards are available from local law enforcement agencies or from the Montana Criminal Records office. The card must be filled out with the individual’s personal details, including social security number and date of birth, along with the potential employer’s information. The service is fee-based.
The general public can also solicit background checks for a fee in the State of Montana. This is available using the same Criminal History Online Public Record Search online or as a mail-in service.
Alternatively, requests can be made in person at the Montana Criminal Records office as a walk-in service. Individuals can request name-based or fingerprint-based background checks through this office, as well as fingerprinting services, criminal record reviews or disputes, and record removals and expungements.
What shows up on a background check in Montana?
Background checks can vary as to what records they access and what information comes back. Some of the most common categories of information that employers tend to check include an individual’s criminal, employment, and financial history, and his or her education record and credentials. They may well also look into an applicant’s credit and driving record if the job involves money-handling or driving, respectively.
Criminal history in Montana is maintained by the state Department of Justice’s centralized repository, under the Division of Criminal Investigation. By law, background checks can only contain conviction and not arrest information, and this information will be limited to convictions in the state.
Background checks that come back with criminal charges on file may include information such as:
- Case number(s)
- The jurisdiction where the record is held
- Description and degree of the offense (e.g., misdemeanor, felony, etc.)
- The filing date for the charge
- The case’s disposition and disposition date
- Sentencing information
To acquire this information, background checks can access an array of records, including court records, meeting minutes, and even electronic communications.
It should be noted that Montana background checks can include pending or active charges but not warrants. In addition, public sex offender information is considered public in the state, so this can also be included in background check results. Mugshots and probation status information on file are excluded for results, as are certain but not all juvenile convictions.
What do employers in Montana look for when conducting background checks?
Most Montana employers will include inquiries into any criminal history on their background checks, as well as verifying job-related qualifications like certificates, degrees, and other credentials a candidate lists on his or her application.
They can also attempt to verify more general information such as your name and social security number, and may even check out things like your address history. Some employers also require pre-employment drug tests alongside a background check.
Montana law also permits former employers to disclose information about past employees at the request of a current or prospective employer. This means that employers considering an applicant can call his or her previous employers and make inquiries almost without restriction.
How far back do background checks go in Montana?
As mentioned previously, in keeping with the federally enacted FCRA, background checks can only report on the past seven years. Montana’s own state law also restricts any adverse information, such as arrests, indictments, and convictions, from being reported if such information predates the background check by more than seven years.
How long do background checks take in Montana?
Background checks can vary in terms of processing time depending on a number of factors. In Montana, there is no statute dictating a maximum length of time for a background check to be completed in. However, most checks are processed within a week’s time and sometimes within just a few days.
Additionally, some inquiries via the Montana Department of Justice’s Criminal History Online Public Record Search service will produce results immediately. When a record is missing its final disposition information, however, the repository will check with the relevant court and has a maximum of three days to issue a response from when the initial request is made.
You should be aware that as a result of court and agency closures and other logistical factors complicated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, there may be additional delays in the processing of background checks in Montana.
How long do background checks for firearms purchases take in Montana?
Federal law dictates that all federally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check on potential purchasers prior to finalizing the sale of a firearm. This law, however, does not apply to private sellers.
Additionally, Montana is not considered a “point of contact” state, meaning that background checks for gun sales cannot be conducted using the state’s own resources. Rather, all federally licensed firearms dealers must run their checks via the FBI, using the National Instant Background Check System database.
There are some exceptions to the mandate for federally licensed dealers, as well. For instance, a purchaser who can furnish certain types of state permits to purchase or possess firearms does not need to be checked via the FBI. Also, persons with a concealed carry permit are exempt from the federal background check.
While the results of a check through the National Instant Background Check System, which checks a combination of criminal and non-criminal fingerprint-based records, will not display details of any existing criminal history on file, they will indicate if the individual checked is eligible to purchase, receive, or possess a firearm by law.
As its name suggests, the National Instant Background Check System typically clears a potential firearms purchaser immediately. If, however, the system comes back with a delay due to having detected a potential problem, there is a three-day waiting period before the sale can proceed automatically, short of any further information from the FBI that would ban the sale.
What is an FBI background check?
There are certain employers and positions, especially in the context of work with federal agencies or employers that work with or for the federal government, that may require an FBI background check. This can be in addition to or instead of the standard background checks mentioned above.
FBI background checks are similar in terms of the content they asses to standard criminal background checks. That said, they are more comprehensive, as they investigate any contact the person being checked has had with any law enforcement agency that pools its information with the FBI database. This can, it is worth pointing out, include arrests even if they did not lead to a conviction.
FBI background checks are fingerprint-based, and the individual’s prints have to be taken by an agency recognized by the FBI. The FBI then checks the submitted fingerprint card against its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, a broad database that draws on prints from various law enforcement and immigration agencies nationwide.
This database includes prints taken in both criminal and non-criminal contexts and can even include prints submitted as part of previous employment screen processes. FBI checks can take up to six weeks to process.
What are some of the most common red flags on Montana background checks?
Considering that background checks are likely to dig up any dirt you may have hidden in your past, it is a good idea to get familiar with what employers tend to consider as red flags, or deal-breakers, on background checks that come back on the job applicants. Much of the same can apply to other contexts in which background checks are conducted, such as potential renters or loan applicants.
This is obviously the biggest red flag of them all. A criminal record is generally unlikely to leave an employer with a positive impression of an applicant. This is all the more true because if a company happens to hire a known criminal who goes on to engage in subsequent criminal activity after being hired, that company could be held accountable in legal proceedings.
Nevertheless, not all criminal records will show up in background check results, and not all criminal history is the same. If you know you have a criminal history on record, try to inform yourself of what your potential employer will likely see if they conduct a background check on you. The easiest way to do this is to buy a background check and see what information it includes.
If you are convinced an employer will see specific criminal activity on your record, your best move is probably to preemptively share this information on your application, especially if it explicitly asks whether you have a criminal history.
Whatever you do, you certainly don’t want to try covering up your tracks, as the employer is more likely than not to uncover them, and to leave the first impression as a deceitful or untrustworthy person is almost certainly going to cost you any job you may apply for.
Pay special attention to any criminal activity on your record that is relevant to the job or industry you are applying to work in. This can include, for instance, a DUI if you are applying for a job in the transportation field or fraud charges if you’re applying for a teller’s position at a bank.
Expect your potential employer to take a close look at your work history details and even to verify them as part of their background check on you. If you have listed significant and/or numerous gaps between jobs, this is likely to be a red flag that may affect your chances of being hired.
If you are worried that gaps in your employment history may not reflect well on you, think up a clear explanation of the factors behind your unemployment, if you have a legitimate reason for it. This can include illnesses, emergencies, moves, or the Covid-19 pandemic and the related economic crisis.
Periods of employment lasting for brief periods
You want to keep in mind that employers tend to raise an eyebrow when they see periods of employment lasting for short periods, especially if there are multiple such instances on your application. This is something that is likely to suggest to them that you are hard to get along with, noncommittal when it comes to jobs or a person who generally struggles to hold down a job.
That said, there are, of course, some cases where working a job for short periods is not only reasonable but may even be the norm. This might be the case with seasonal jobs, such as those linked to the agricultural or tourist industries.
You may also have legitimate reasons for short-term employment situations if you were subjected to unfair treatment. Make sure to point this information out, especially if you can also provide supporting documentation.
Irrelevant or limited work experience
When applying for a job, it is always recommended that you research the position on offer and the company offering it. Once you have a clear idea of the particulars, you will want to create a resumé that uses your experience and qualifications to speak directly to the job’s duties. With that in mind, don’t bother loading on experience that is irrelevant to the job or industry.
On the other hand, you definitely want to avoid submitting a resumé with too little work history. Even if it is your first time applying for a job, you still want to include whatever relevant experience and skills you have, even if these come from non-paid positions or experiences.
Inconsistency and dishonesty
This one should be a no-brainer, especially considering how easy it is for employers to run a background check on you, but in case it isn’t, know that it is a bad idea to lie about your education, qualifications, or experience on any job application.
Nor do you want to list fictitious references. Rather, list real employers or others who can speak to your professional and personal traits honestly and objectively. Don’t fall into thinking that you can pull a fast one on a potential employer by listing a best friend or family member.
Where can I get a free Montana background check?
As mentioned previously, you may wish to run a background check on yourself, particularly if you are concerned about what someone else might gain access to if they run one on you. That said, there are no free background checks in the State of Montana.
There are, however, some resources that you can use to collect different sorts of information that could potentially add up to at least part of the results a full background would produce. The following are some of the best ways you can gather information similar to what might show up in the results of a background check.
- Public records: Many Montana State public records at the county and state level are available via the various portals they offer for public access purposes. Unfortunately, you would have to search these one-by-one and to know which records to look at in the first place. Alternatively, you could try your luck with the NETR Online system, which accesses various state and county records nationwide.
- Bankruptcy records: Public bankruptcy and other related records are available for access via the PACER system. Though not free, it costs a mere 10¢ per page.
- Sex offender records: The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website maintains updated records on registered sex offenders, which you can access for free.
- Public online info: Finally, you could simply embark on a web search, which in some cases can come up with a shocking amount of information. This may include records of past addresses and phone numbers, as well as employer and education history. You could also check for information on social media, including professional networks such as LinkedIn.