How Long Are Background Checks Good For?

It’s not the most frequent question we receive but it is definitely top 5. 

How long are background checks good for? 

You want to know you are legally protected AND getting a great return on your investment.

What you are really asking is: How often should we be re-screening our employees and volunteers to keep our organization safe?  To keep from being sued?  To stay out of the media?

I wish I could say a criminal background check would keep you safe and risk free for 5 years.  However, the truth is a background check is history the moment it is completed.

Say what?

Think about it.  We complete a background check today and your applicant could get arrested tonight.

I know, that doesn’t make you breathe easy. Hang on. Take three quick puffs in a paper bag.

Seriously though, background checks are time sensitive.  They are outdated quicker than your new shoes.

Now, let’s put this in perspective. 

Does this mean we should be doing background checks every day?

In a perfect world yes.  In a practical world, no way.

Click here for more on background checks with Safe Hiring Solutions.

There is no case law that says a background check is valid for 2 years or 5 years.  So I am going to answer the question by throwing it back to you: 

How long do you think background checks should be good for?

A sampling of our nearly 2,000 clients shows that the majority are NOT conducting ongoing screening.  Pre-employment background checks are one piece of a comprehensive background screening program.

Employers that have transitioned to an ongoing screening program have adopted 5 years as the magic number for a new criminal background check. 

Why 5 years? 

Possibly because this has been the law enforcement benchmark for many years.

If you are an Indiana school district, then the Expanded Criminal History Statute enacted in 2009 provides legal permission to charge an employee once every five years for a background check.  So not only does the law encourage current employee background checks, it gives you permission to charge them.  Talk about a win/win for Indiana schools.

Volunteer organizations typically have the most variance for re-checks.  First, most volunteer organizations do not conduct ongoing background checks.  For those that are, the frequency ranges from 2 years to 5 years.

Ultimately, criminal background re-checks are a personal policy issue.  I think we all agree, whether we are or are not doing re-checks, that never is not a sound policy.   A lot can change over a 20 year career.

For example, we recently conducted a criminal background check and after discovering a felony record we called and notified our client.  They were deadpan silent. 


Because the background check had been ordered accidentally while reviewing an old one.

The reality is background screening is an ongoing process not a one and done deal. 

So, how long are background checks good for? 

I would recommend somewhere between 2-5 years.

What is holding you back from starting an ongoing screening program?  

Do you feel safe only requiring a single criminal background check during the on-boarding process?