Getting a background check in Washington isn’t as difficult as some people think. In this article, we’re going to walk you through everything there is to know about getting a WA state background check, including laws, waiting times, and so much more.
Let’s get started.
Background Check Laws in Washington
When it comes to performing background checks in Washington, there are three types of laws that you must be aware of:
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
- State Laws in Washington
- “Ban-The-Box” and Fair Hiring Laws
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
Whenever it comes to background checks in Washington or anywhere else in the US, you’ll see mentions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act or FCRA. That act serves to ensure that the individual’s right to privacy is protected and that any information gathered is not misused.
The FCRA works by monitoring and protecting both the employer and potential job candidates.
State Laws in Washington
Besides laws like the FCRA at the federal level, you must also take note of local laws that are unique to Washington. In this case, those laws include:
- RCW 19.182.040 (Consumer report – Prohibited information – Exceptions).
- RCW 19.182.020 (Consumer Reports – Furnishing – Procuring).
RCW 19.182.040 (Consumer report – Prohibited information – Exceptions)
According to this law, consumer reporting agencies (i.e. companies that provide background checks or screening services) can’t report on a person’s criminal records if they are older than seven years.
There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For instance, it does not apply when it’s done for a credit transaction that involves $50,000 or more or a life insurance policy of $50,000 or more.
Regarding job candidates, the exception also applies if the candidate is applying for a job that pays a salary of $20,000 or more.
RCW 19.182.020 (Consumer Reports – Furnishing – Procuring)
According to this law, an employer cannot request information on a candidate’s credit history for employment purposes. The rule doesn’t apply if that credit information is significantly related to the job in question. Additionally, the employer must also notify the job candidate or employee in writing about why they’re requesting that information.
“Ban-The-Box” and Fair Hiring Laws
“Ban-The-Box” is another term that you’ll come across often when searching for background checks. That term refers to fair hiring laws related to how an employer may or may not inquire about a candidate’s criminal history during the earlier stages of the job application process.
Washington does not have statewide “Ban-The-Box” laws. However, some jurisdictions within the state do have local laws or ordinances similar to “Ban-The-Box” laws.
Typically, those rules state that employers can’t ask about a candidate’s criminal history, at least during the hiring process’s initial stages.
The jurisdictions with that kind of law, or some variation of it, include Tacoma County, Spokane County, and Pierce County.
What Shows Up On A Background Check In Washington
The exact contents of a background check report in Washington will depend on what information has been requested. So, on a typical report, you may find information such as:
- Verification of the person’s identity (e.g. name, age, and so on)
- Employment history
- Education history and academic credentials
- Criminal history or court records
- Confirmation of whether or not the person is on a sex offender registry
Still, whether you’re the one requesting the background check or if someone is doing one on you, it’s important to note that other types of information can also be included. For instance, you may find that particular job roles will involve specific types of background checks.
Common examples include:
- Motor vehicle license and traffic offense checks for roles that involve operating any kind of vehicle.
- Criminal history and sex offender registry check for roles that involve providing care for others.
In that regard, credit checks are somewhat unique. Washington has laws in place that restrict a company’s ability to perform a credit check on job candidates unless specific criteria have been met. That includes checks for a person’s creditworthiness, credit standing, or even credit history.
An employer may be allowed to collect such information if:
- That information is significantly related to the job position they’re applying for.
- That information is required by law to be included in the vetting process, such as some government contractor positions.
The bottom line is that the information that shows up on a background check report in Washington depends on what data is requested and what the law allows. Remember: there are laws in place that govern what information is collected and how and to ensure that the individual’s privacy is respected.
How Far Back Do Background Checks Go In Washington?
The Washington State Human Rights Commission has stated that considering a candidate’s arrest record as part of the hiring process is an unfair employment practice. Still, in Washington, a background check can go as far back as seven years, as governed by specific laws on the matter.
To be more precise, a background check can only report a person’s conviction records for seven years, assuming the position pays less than $20,000.
For jobs that pay more than that amount, conviction records can be included in the report regardless of when it happened.
However, it’s important to note that there are no laws for other types of general background checks, such as those that validate a person’s education history.
Typically, this type of check will involve contacting the educational institution and confirming that the person’s academic credentials are valid (i.e., they graduated with the degree they claim to have).
How Long Does A Background Check Take In Washington
In Washington, a background check can be instant if it’s done using the state’s electronic system called the Washington Access to Criminal History (WATCH).
However, regular mail-in requests for background checks can take anywhere between 7 and 14 days.
Factors That Might Delay A Background Check
Depending on the type of information requested, a background check report could be delayed for several reasons. They might include:
- Incomplete or inaccurate information provided to start the search, such as the person’s name or date of birth.
- Geographical challenges when collecting information from other states or countries.
- Delays at the source, such as when collecting information to verify education or work histories.
- Confusing or inaccurate information, especially when records are mixed up.
How To Speed Up The Background Check Process
Thankfully, there are ways in which you can speed up the background check process. In Washington, gathering criminal history is much quicker when you do it yourself through the Washington State Patrol (WSP).
However, when it comes to performing other types of checks such as work history, academic credentials, or license checks, it may be faster to hire a third-party service provider instead.
Sometimes referred to as Credit Reporting Agencies, these companies are staffed by experts who can quickly source the information and compile it into a background check report. These companies, however, charge fees for their services. Still, if you have the budget and the background check is time-sensitive, working with a third-party this way could be the quickest way to get the background check you need.
How Long Does A Background Check Take For A Gun In Washington?
Since 2014, Washington has been the first state to pass a universal background check law for anyone wanting to buy a gun. There is no mandatory waiting period to get a gun. Still, the state allows for ten days to complete a background check on the buyer. That process may be completed sooner if there are no complications.
However, there are some cases when the background check process may take up to 60 days. Typically, that may happen if the person doesn’t have a valid Washington driver’s license or State-issued identification. The same could also happen if the buyer has not been a Washington resident for 90 consecutive days leading up to that period.
How To Get A Background Check In Washington
Generally, there are two options for getting a background check in Washington. You can either collect the information yourself or hire a third-party service provider. Each option comes with its fair share of pros and cons, which you should consider beforehand. That way, you can determine which option suits your needs the best.
Doing It Yourself
Washington has the Washington Public Records Act, which, in essence, means that any member of the public can have access to records that the government creates and retains.
Therefore, you can personally submit requests to the relevant government office to gather certain kinds of records on yourself or another person (such as a job candidate).
For example, a person in Washington may submit a request to the Washington State Patrol to obtain a person’s criminal records.
Pros and cons:
Performing a background check this way maybe the better option if you’re trying to minimize your costs. That’s because you’re only paying to submit the necessary requests for information instead of paying a third-party to do it for you.
However, the tradeoff here is that you’ll be doing all the legwork yourself. That means having to fill up the forms, liaise with the relevant government offices and wait until you receive the information you’ve requested.
Hiring A Third-Party Service Provider
Washington has plenty of third-party service providers who can perform background checks on your behalf. These companies go by many names. Some are known as Credit Reporting Agencies, Pre-Employment Screening companies, and so on.
Regardless of what they’re called, they fulfill the same function: to gather information based on the details you provide, like a name and date of birth. Then, they’ll present the information to you in a report. That report can be as straightforward or as in-depth as you require while adhering to any relevant laws.
Pros and Cons: Getting a background check through a third-party service provider can be much quicker overall. That’s because they have teams of staff dedicated to collecting, verifying, and compiling the information for you in a background check report.
However, these companies charge a fee for their services, which may or may not fit your budget. Typically, this option works well for companies that are always hiring new candidates as they’ll need to request background checks often.
How To Get A Criminal Background Check In Washington
There are three ways to get a criminal background check in Washington. You can do so through the state’s repository of criminal records, local courts, or through local law enforcement agencies like the Washington State Patrol.
In Washington, the repository is known as The Identification and Criminal History Section, which is part of the Washington State Patrol. The request can be submitted through their online ‘WATCH’ system (for $10) or by mail (for $17).
Suppose you’re looking for information specific to court cases. In that case, you can access that information through the relevant local courts. When requesting the information, you should ideally have the case numbers ready as well. That will reduce the effort needed to find the correct records.
Law Enforcement Agencies
Criminal background checks can also be done directly through local law enforcement agencies. However, the forms, fees, and processes may differ slightly according to which agency you approach.
What Do Job Background Checks Check For In Washington?
When an employer requests a job background check, they typically request information like:
- Verification of the candidate’s identity.
- Employment and education history.
- Criminal records checks.
However, some employers may request additional information that’s relevant to the job that the candidate is applying to. That additional information may include:
- Checking for relevant motor vehicle licenses for jobs involving company vehicles or heavy machineries like forklifts and tractors.
- Checking for credit history for jobs that involve handling cash or other finances.
- Checking for a history of violence or abuse for jobs that involve providing care to vulnerable individuals like children.
Can I Get A Free Background Check In Washington?
No, it’s not possible to get a free background check in Washington. Whether you’re submitting a request for information directly to a government office or if you’re using a third-party screening service, there’s always a fee involved.
However, the fee amount will differ depending on which option you use. For example, you will spend less if you gather information for the background check yourself. However, it’ll take much more time and effort on your part, as you’ll be doing all the legwork yourself.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to spend more, you can hire a Credit Reporting Agency or screening service provider. They’ll perform the background check for you and provide you with all the relevant information in a compiled and easy-to-read report.