Does a Name Change Affect an Employee Background Check?

By Laura Payet

Does a Name Change Affect an Employee Background Check?

By Laura Payet

A name change probably won't help you escape anything in your past that you'd like to hide from potential employers. But if you're not upfront about it during the hiring process, it can cause delays in your background check and maybe even cost you the job you want.

Two co-workers speaking at a desk

The Skinny on Background Checks

The truth is, virtually all employers conduct some kind of background check on potential new hires. Sometimes it's driven by fear of potential liability for making a negligent hire, and sometimes, depending on the position involved, it may be required by law.

Background checks are about much more than criminal records. There are many different types, and some are more thorough than others. The simplest one could involve the employer contacting your references and previous employers to confirm your employment history. On the other end of the spectrum are companies specializing in performing background checks that leave no stone unturned. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a background check might include a search on one or more of the following:

  • Driving record
  • Credit history
  • Criminal record
  • Education history
  • Employment history
  • Workers compensation claims
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Bankruptcy
  • State licensing records
  • Sex offender registry
  • Social media accounts

Before an employer can conduct a background check, you must give written authorization for it. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes guidelines for employee background checks but applies only if the employer hires a third-party consumer reporting agency to conduct the screening. Any screening the employer does itself doesn't fall under the FCRA's rules.

The FCRA also limits some of the information an employer can consider on a background check and mandates that the employer notify you before it takes any adverse action, such as declining to hire you or rescinding a job offer, based on information reported in a background check. Additionally, it entitles you to a copy of the report if the employer takes adverse action based on it.

Honesty is the Best Policy

 

People change their names for all kinds of reasons. Whether you've made a legal, court-approved name change or have simply adopted a preferred name through usage, it's important to disclose any names you've gone by previously during the job application process. Often, employers ask for any other names or aliases you may have used, such as a maiden name, to facilitate a background check. You might also be asked for your Social Security number, address, date of birth, and current and previous addresses. Any of this additional information might turn up your old name and make it appear that you've been dishonest if you failed to mention it. If an employer discovers that you've changed your name, even for a perfectly innocent reason, but weren't forthcoming about it, you may find yourself disqualified from the job you want.

Additionally, if whomever conducting the background check doesn't have your old name, it could result in a delay in processing your background check and frustrate your would-be employer. You might miss out on including positive information as well. For example, if you received your undergraduate degree under a different name and the employer calls your university to confirm your credentials, the school might say that no such person ever attended. Then it might appear that you lack credentials you've actually earned.

Ultimately, it's your decision whether to be forthcoming about any name change, but you're not likely doing yourself any favors by keeping it secret. Plus, you may cause yourself greater harm by not sharing it than you would have by simply disclosing it in the first place.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.