how long does a background check take in california

While the world continues to deal with the fallout of COVID-19, many people wonder, how long does a background check take in California?

Unfortunately, the number of factors involved can make estimating a time frame tricky, but by examining the full timeline, anyone can get a good idea of exactly how long a California background check should take.

Why Do California Background Checks Take So Long?

Although most background checks shouldn’t take more than two weeks, with most only taking 3-7 business days, there are different factors that can impact this timeline. These delays are not always caused by the same disruption and can often be a combination of a few different factors that can add days to the process.

Some of the most common factors for delaying background checks in CA include the business requesting the check not filing the proper paperwork with a credit reporting agency or another background check service, which have strict rules due to laws around background checks. Aside from clerical issues, everything from the weather and record keeping issues can affect the timeline of the background check.

Timeline for a California Background Check

The timeline for a background check in California is fairly standard, and includes the following steps:

What’s the Longest a Background Check Can Take in California?

Currently, there are now laws that stipulate a maximum amount of time for a background check to be completed in California. So, for those looking for answers to “How long does a background check take in California,” there is no set law limiting the amount of time a criminal records request can take.

This is largely due to the fact that so many of the factors that cause a background check to take longer than normal are outside of the control of the agency that is gathering the information.

What Causes a Background Check to Be Delayed?

Some things impact how long a background check can take, and they are true for California and other states.

Weather & Uncontrollable Factors

In many parts of the country, weather can become a significant factor in obtaining the information necessary to complete the background check. Although weather impacting the process is becoming less common with the online databases, databases can also go offline for a number of reasons. Plus, if public records are kept by a local office and require a government employee to physically obtain the record, inclement weather that causes the office to be shut down will delay the process.

In areas where records can only be accessed by a government employee or clerk physically, weather related events, state and federal holidays, power outages, or COVID-19 related shutdowns all have the possibility of delaying background check reports.

The progress of a background check in many states can be assessed using a check status portal, like the one in California, because there are numerous issues that can cause a background check to be delayed.

Record Keeping Issues

In some jurisdictions, gathering the records may simply take longer than average, due to staffing limitations. With many counties and jurisdictions still relying on physical records, the documents being requested must be searched by hand.

This means that it may take a few extra days before the records clerk even has the time to gather these records and return them to the agency or individual that requested them.

Slow Response Times

Agencies that gather background check information for a client or individual, search a variety of outlets to obtain public records, including universities, previous employers, trade schools, and even social media.

All of these institutions can have their own issues, which may cause delays. Regardless of how quickly the information is requested (and many criminal records can be accessed instantly from online databases) slow response times can and do occur in some cases.

Note: a free California background check can sometimes be the quickest option depending on what information is needed and the purpose for the background search (these checks can’t be used for professional purposes such as employment and tenant background checks).

Incorrect & Incomplete Information

Despite being one of the most common causes for delays, incorrect or incomplete information being supplied to the background check agency is often the biggest factor in lengthening the process.

Agencies that perform criminal history searches and comprehensive background checks are required by law to follow very strict guidelines when it comes to how they gather information and who they gather it on.

A missed signature, or even a spelling mistake on a middle name can lead to significant delays while the background check company attempts to work out the nature of the mistake and rectify it with who is supplying the information.

Speed Up a Pre Employment Background Check in California

For pre-employment background checks there are a number of things that applicants can do to speed up this process. The easiest is to diligently double check all information submitted for the background check. Everything from spelling mistakes to incorrect birthdays and social security numbers will delay the process.

The employer supplying the information to a background check agency can also make mistakes that can lead to delays.

In California, companies are required to receive written authorization to conduct background checks. Since California doesn’t allow background checks to be completed without this authorization, an employer failing to get this authorization will cause the process to be delayed.

How Long Do Criminal Background Checks in California Take?

Ideally, a background check in California should take as little as three days, but usually up to seven. This timeline will vary widely depending on the outside factors mentioned above, as well as what kind of background check is being completed.

When answering how long does a background check take in California, it’s always a good practice to figure in a few extra days for unforeseen issues. The following information explains the general timeframe for some specific types of background checks.

Drug Screening

If an employer requests a drug screening in addition to a background check, the drug screening process can add additional days to the background check process.

Many states and counties have legal policies in place concerning hiring practices, which include how long a background check can take and what type of drug screenings are allowed.

In some cases, the hiring manager may be able to conduct a cheek swab onsite. In this case the results of the drug test will be available very quickly, often within a few hours. However, for urine tests an appointment must be made and then the test must be completed. This alone can add a few days to the process, depending on the availability of testing sites and scheduling issues with the applicant.

Once the urine test has been completed, the results will generally be available within a week but unforeseen delays can make the process take even longer.

Federal Background Checks

A federal, fingerprint-based background check will normally take the longest. This is because federal background checks are normally completed by the FBI and the physical fingerprint must be mailed or digitally transferred by an approved channeller.

Once the fingerprints are received, there is still a significant amount of time before results will be returned due to the sheer volume of background checks the FBI runs each day. Most FBI background check results will be returned in less than 30 days.

This time can be decreased by using digital fingerprinting, which is becoming more common (learn more ways you can reduce how long a FBI background check takes).

Lastly, it is important to note that a standard fingerprint background check is different than a FBI check and almost always takes less time (review how long a fingerprint background check takes).

Local Criminal Background Checks

Although criminal background checks at the state level are far more speedy than a federal background check, they are still subject to some delays. However, individuals can generally expect results on a state-wide criminal background check in less than one week.

Other Options for Background Checks

The county clerk will also have useful public information and it is often worth it to contact them directly to obtain certain records that they may have access to, such as court records.

Clerks generally keep:

  • Marriage and Divorce Records
  • Property and Deed Information
  • Voting Record and Voter Information (which is public record)
  • Wills and Estate Records

Background check agencies will often manually search county data, which can add a few days to the process as well. To perform a background check on yourself in California, the local county records are a great place to start.

The various County Sheriff’s departments in California also have certain records that are available to the public and this information can be accessed in certain cases. (Sealed and expunged criminal records won’t be available.)

Other records such as incident reports and arrest records are also made available by the county sheriff’s department, with varying stipulations on who can request these documents.

Links to the California county sheriff’s department websites are available in the list below.

Local Police Departments

Local police departments also maintain criminal information that can be used in a California background check.

Depending on the information and where it is stored, a background check in California can be delayed if the records must be manually accessed.

Each department will have its own procedures for obtaining these records. Links to the websites for a few major police departments in California are linked below.

California Employment Law Overview

One reason there is no direct answer to “How long does a California background check take?” is because of extra laws and regulations set by the state regarding how these checks are completed.

California has several employment related laws that are specific to the state. Many of these laws pertain to the way that credit reporting agencies and other companies are able to access background check information for certain individuals.

A background check company in California must also abide by the seven year rule. The seven year rule is present in many states across the country and makes it illegal for CRA’s to report criminal history information on individuals if the crime occurred more than seven years ago. There is an exception that allows this rule to be ignored if the applicant is applying for a job that makes more than $75,000 per year.

The state also has laws surrounding what employers are allowed to ask employees as part of the background check. For example the law forbids employers from asking about charges that did not end in a conviction, or from asking about convictions that were dismissed.

Finally, California has “ban-the-box,” laws that prevent employers from asking about the applicant’s criminal history as part of the application process. This and the California Fair Chance Act prevents employers from discriminating against applicants with criminal records early on in the hiring process.

How Long Does an Employment Background Check Take In California?

Various kinds of background checks are used across the state, depending on the industry and specific job. Some jobs that require unique background checks are listed below:

  • Firearms Dealer
  • Healthcare
  • Education Jobs
  • Assisted Living Facilities

Most background checks that are required for retail positions and food industry jobs, will be fairly standard. Applicants can expect basic identity verification, education check, and a criminal background check, which may or may not include a California warrant search.

In most cases, the criminal background check will be at the state level, so applicants can expect a fairly speedy background check process.

Some industries and positions require more intensive checks. Like many states, these more intensive checks are required for positions that involve working with sensitive information or sensitive groups. 

Retail and service industry job applicants should expect their background check to be completed in less than a week. However, for fingerprint based searches for jobs that require more intensive criminal history checks, such as a nanny or a caregiver background check, the results are normally available within two weeks, but can take up to a month in certain cases.

Healthcare and Education Checks

Teaching and healthcare jobs in California require a more intensive background check. In addition to the basic checks such as identity, employment and education, a full criminal background check is also conducted, in addition to the other qualifications required.

This criminal background check is conducted by the California Department of Justice and is a national background check. For this check, the applicant will need to supply fingerprints that will be sent to the California DOJ, who will conduct the criminal history check.

Education jobs in particular are also subject to one additional check that involves a name based check through the Child Abuse Central Index (CACI). Since the check is name-based it is generally done extremely quickly.

Anyone can request a self-check on the California Child Abuse Central Index, by:

Or By:

  • Sending a notarized letter to the CACI, requesting to see if a name appears in the index.
  • The letter must include, Full name, Date of birth, SS number or green card, current address and previous addresses in California

Even people who have never committed a crime can access and check the Child Abuse Central Index, to ensure that a data entry error hasn’t accidentally listed them on a background check.

Both options must be sent by mail to:

Department of Justice
Bureau of Criminal Information & Analysis
Child Abuse Central Index
P.O. Box 903387
Sacramento, CA 94203-3879

What Other Type of Background Checks are Used in California?

California has several other background checks that can be utilized in various circumstances. However, for most of these checks the scope of use is very narrow, making them fairly uncommon.

Credit Check

Some employers may request background checks be run on an applicant’s credit history as conditions of employment. Jobs that require this check usually deal with a company’s financial records.

California has made this kind of check illegal, unless very specific circumstances are met, making the check extremely rare.

Dealer Record of Sale (Firearms Purchase)

Individuals who wish to purchase a firearm in California are also subject to specific background checks.

Anyone wishing to purchase a firearm must submit a “Dealer Record of Sale.” (DROS) which includes a background check through the California DOJ. Once the information is received by the DOJ, they will conduct a federal background check for any information which may disqualify the individual from purchasing a firearm under state or federal law.

Search Criminal Record Databases in CA

There is also the option to search California court records for criminal history information on an individual.

Searching California court records for this information can be a tedious process and doesn’t always turn up the information being searched for due to a variety of factors. However, this is still a viable option for those who wish to avoid a full background check through a reporting agency.

There are two different ways to access court records in California: Online or in-person. Detailed steps on each process are outlined below.

Accessing Records In-person.

Step 1. Go to the Courthouse that has the records.

Going directly to the courthouse that contains the records being searched for is the most dependable way to find court records in California.

Court records are generally kept by the court where the case was heard so knowing which court contains the records is important, as there is no central database with all court records.

Step 2. Speak with the records keeper about the records being searched.

Once the courthouse has been identified, it’s as simple as contacting the clerk at the courthouse and asking to see the records. In order to obtain a criminal record, some information must be known such as the case number or at least the persons involved in the case.

When the information has been requested, if available the clerk will locate the paper records for viewing.

Accessing Records Online

Many courts in California have digitized their records in recent years. In this case, there is the option to access the records online. Unfortunately in most cases this still requires going to the courthouse.

The Judicial Branch controls criminal records in California, and their website outlines exactly how to access public records and how long does it take to get a background check in California.

Step 1. Go to the Courthouse that has the records

To access these records the process is largely the same but rather than request paper records from the clerk, the clerk will likely direct individuals to a public access computer located in the courthouse as well as supply individuals with specific instructions on how to access the online records on that computer.

Some larger counties offer online access to public records, using database portals that can be accessed anywhere.

Step 2. Search for records on the public access computer.

In some rare cases courts will allow access to these online records from anywhere, rather than just the court house. This is known as “remote access.”

If the court that is being searched offers remote access, a link to the database will be available on the website of the courthouse.

California has an above average amount of laws and regulations regarding how background checks may be conducted which can lead to delays and shifting time tables. When it comes to the question of “How long does a background check take in California?,” the answer is about a week, but depending on the level of check required, could take three to four weeks.

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