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What are civil searches…and should I do them?

Focus on Civil Searches, straight from the desk of Elisabeth Stover, the KRESS office manager and expert on finding the right record for the job. 

What exactly are civil searches? Are they worth the weight everyone seems to give them? Let’s examine exactly what a civil search is and if it’s worth including in your employment screening and hiring process.

Elisabeth Stover

So what exactly is a civil search anyway? The standard definition by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) defines this search as “A civil search is a county level search that reports information about an individual regarding his or her involvement in lawsuits, bankruptcies, divorce, and other matters. Civil history differs from the criminal history in that the subject can either be the plaintiff or defendant.” Pretty vague, huh?

My experience with civil searches comes from running them first-hand and deciphering the docket sheets. I have experienced civil searches to be some of the most complicated searches that we, as background screening providers, run. Does this mean you shouldn’t run them? No, not at all. In order to better determine if this search should be used in your hiring process, you need the facts.

Certain positions absolutely require having a civil search run on all applicants and employees. Here’s a list of those positions, and why the civil search is important:

  1. Accounting/Management Positions – Civil searches give you an insight to their bill payment history that you may not be able to see on their credit report. Small claims, foreclosures, and/or tax liens are all important types of cases for anyone who may be handling company financials.
  2. Commercial Drivers – A civil search is one of the only ways you can determine whether or not someone sued the applicant or employee in a Personal Injury Accident or Wrongful Death suit.
  3. Sales Positions – Civil searches will give you information on tax liens, contracts/debts and small claims cases. These are all indicators of reliability and integrity, which are important in a sales position.

Now, let’s look at why civil searches can be difficult and may not always be beneficial in the hiring process:

  1. Court structure varies from state to state, which makes consistency in researching difficult.
  2. Not all courts have the information listed on the public access terminals, which means the clerk has to do the search. This further delays the turnaround time.
  3. Almost all civil records don’t have any identifiers on them other than the name of the individual involved in the suit. You can only imagine how time consuming researching names like Jose Gonzalez and John Smith is.
  4. Some courts limit access to civil cases, may only have certain years available to the general public, or hold records in a storage facility with very limited access.

This may sound like reasons why we don’t like to perform civil searches, but it really isn’t so. These four factors make the searches difficult, but in the aforementioned positions, it is worth the work. However, if you are running a civil search, make absolutely certain that you are doing so with an employment screening firm that is committed to protecting your business. Because courts are inconsistent and identifiers are lacking in these searches, you open yourself to quite a bit of liability in excluding an applicant/employee from a position based on partial information. At KRESS, we want to limit that liability by only reporting records that pertain to the individual in question, so while these searches may be difficult, we do our due diligence to make sure you get correct information.

Now that you know, is it time to re-evaluate your employment screening process? Remember, more information equals better decisions. It’s a motto we live by every single day here at KRESS.

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