When making personnel decisions — including hiring, retention, promotion, and reassignment — employers sometimes want to consider the backgrounds of applicants and employees. For example, some employers might try to find out about the person’s work history, education, criminal record, financial history, medical history, or use of social media. Except for certain restrictions related to medical and genetic information (see below), it’s not illegal for an employer to ask questions about an applicant’s or employee’s background, or to require a background check.
However, any time you use an applicant’s or employee’s background information to make an employment decision, regardless of how you got the information, you must comply with federal laws that protect applicants and employees from discrimination. That includes discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion; disability; genetic information (including family medical history); and age (40 or older). These laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).