Background Check: Florida Public Records Search (Official 2023 Guide)
Table of Contents
When conducting a background check, Florida has codified the laws that can help an individual or company navigate Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement and Division of Criminal Justice Information Services databases to find key information on a person’s criminal history or. Criminal history record checks and searches that are done as part of a background check in Florida are supported by Florida’s legislature, and the actions that should (and may) be taken are clearly outlined.
There are multiple levels of background check for use in the state, each employing different initial information and utilizing different databases. Notably, different jurisdictions within Florida may have their own advisories for how to use background and criminal checks, but they are all covered within this official 2023 guide.
Florida and federal laws dictate how information gleaned from a background check may be used. This includes how background check data is applied to employment, credit issuance, educational accreditation, leasing an apartment, foster parenting and adoption, and more. Not all background or criminal information gathered in a background check can be used in the same way.
Understanding Florida’s background check and criminal background check laws can greatly benefit employers, individuals, and others who require a deeper look into a person’s character and history.
Florida Background Check Laws
Florida is, in fact, the only state to have codified level 1 and level 2 background checks and is among 20 states that describe how criminal background checks may be used. This official 2023 guide will walk you through the process step by step.
There are a few types of background checks an employer or individual can conduct in Florida, and as per current law, background checks can go back 5 to 7 years to determine employment, or to check for a potential renter’s ability to lease.
Different laws suggest how a background check Florida style can be conducted. For instance, one statute may permit certain data to be used for making an employment decision in Miami-Dade county, but not in Tallahassee, Florida.
State laws may conflict with county or smaller jurisdiction guidance, so it’s good to understand both the county levels and state-level laws in full.
Background Check Policy in Florida
Public records play a key role in a background check, Florida. It is important to know what types of background checks exist, and what they can legally be used for under current Florida legislation.
Florida Background Checks For Employment
In Florida, background checks conducted by employers for potential hires can be conducted at any time, however, the results can only be applied if certain “exclusions” show up on the final background check. There are also restrictions on how background check data can be used.
The state of Florida also encourages companies to run background checks since doing so ostensibly protects them legally from a negligent hiring lawsuit because red flags would likely be uncovered, preventing the hire of someone who perhaps shouldn’t be hired at all. It is estimated that many financial fraud cases are stopped thanks to background checks prior to employment.1
Florida state law says that someone cannot be prevented from taking a public-employer (government) job because of a conviction, except for felonies and first-degree misdemeanors that specifically relate to the job. People who have drug offenses on their public record must undergo rehabilitation prior to employment but cannot be eliminated for job consideration because of a drug-related offense.
Additionally, all records of an applicant’s criminal background investigation must be kept private and confidential by the potential employer. A decision for or against employment cannot be made based solely on an applicant’s criminal record according to Equal Employment Opportunity laws.
People often get confused because criminal background check and background check are two terms used synonymously by employers when they desire to know more about a potential employee or contractor. However, these terms are not synonymous.
From the point of view of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a background check is a criminal history inquiry to find out if someone has been arrested or convicted of a crime. A check can include information from:
- Driving records
- Credit reports
- Neighbor, friend, and co-worker interviews
- Firearm applications
- The Florida Computerized Criminal History Central Repository for Florida arrests at the state level
- The national criminal history database managed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Florida and other states in addition to the Florida Crime Information Center database for warrants and domestic violence injunctions, or for national records checks, fingerprints are used.
- For state and local jurisdictions the data is extracted based on a name and other descriptors or fingerprints if they are available.2 When this is the case, including someone’s middle name in the search is highly recommended to cut down on the chance of unreliable results or false positives.
Sample Florida Background Check for Employment
The data collected from a sample background check using name and fingerprints might contain:
- A verified social security number
- Workplace alias
- Date of birth
- Workplace state
- Crimes and offenses in Florida and nearby states (no criminal hit appears if no crimes are found)3
Criminal Background Check Florida: Permissible Uses for Employers
Criminal background checks can only be used in certain ways by employers. There are specific laws governing how this information can be used in Florida.
Records of Arrest and Criminal Records
Public and privately held companies and Florida employers can legally look into arrest records and use them to determine employment. However, most level 1 and even some level 2 background checks don’t include comprehensive criminal histories. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) outlines what is included in different levels of background check.
Public companies can only disqualify a potential candidate for felony or first degree convictions and only if the crime pertains to the job that a candidate must do. Private employers can consider any conviction, but should be careful about disqualifying candidates with criminal records offhandedly since they can be sued for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) details in full.
Expunged or Sealed Records
All sealed or expunged records will not show up on a background check, and aren’t used as a disqualifying factor should they be uncovered (like in the case of tax liens, for example).
Ban the Box Legislation in Florida
“Ban the box” legislation prohibits criminal background checks from employers to ask about an employee’s history of illegal activity on applications for certain jobs in certain states, localities, or jurisdictions.
While there is no “ban the box” legislation for the state of Florida, there are many local jurisdictions that limit an employer’s ability to ask about a criminal past.
- Clearwater, Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Miami-Dade, Orlando, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Tallahassee all have ban the box for public jobs.
- Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Sarasota, and Tampa jurisdictions cannot conduct background checks until a conditional offer of employment is made.
- No jurisdictions have banned the box for private employers. Many have ban the box in place for private companies.4
Florida Background Checks For Lessors
A landlord can legally run a background check to include a name, employment history, and credit standing with or without a lessee’s permission, although consent is generally given.
Florida state is notoriously friendly to landlords. It doesn’t require them to do a background check on a potential renter, but they are within their rights if they do. Although it is rarely done, a potential lessee can also conduct a background check on a landlord.5
Florida Background Checks For Adoptive Parents
Background checks on potential adoptive parents can be conducted through Florida State statute 39.0138 provided by the Florida State Senate, which includes fingerprints, criminal history records, FBI records, and criminal checks with local and state law enforcement agencies. These background checks also often include a search of Florida’s automated abuse information system for incidences of:
- Child abuse, abandonment or neglect
- Domestic violence
- Child porn
- Sexual battery
- Felony battery of adults or children
- The use of illegal drugs
These criminal checks can go back five years according to the state-by-state laws listed at the Adoption Network.6
The following are the different levels of background checks available in Florida that can be used for determining employment, leasing an apartment, adopting a child, and more.
What’s the Difference Between a Level 1 and Level 2 Background Check in Florida?
Level one background checks in any state are usually based on a name check and employment history check, based on information provided by the person who is conducting the background check or the person who the check is being conducted on.
Level two background checks utilize a national fingerprint database to look for disqualifying offenses that are enumerated further in this official 2021 guide to Florida background laws.
Both checks can end up showing police reports, but a level 1 search will only include local law enforcement criminal records.
Level 1 and 2 background checks each have their own specifications.
Level 1 Background Check Florida
A level 1 background check in Florida includes a name-only check within the state’s databases. It does not include national or federal databases other than the sex offender registry. The information that can turn up includes:
- Employment history
- State or local criminal history as long as it isn’t for a minor
- If the name provided turns up on the national sex offender registry
- Credit information
This information is provided for a $25 fee. A free background check in Florida is available using some online sites, but they aren’t certified results, can often have missing information, and sometimes don’t include much more than what is found easily using a Google and social media search. Additional background checks of criminal databases can be accessed for fees ranging from $8 to $29 from the FDLE’s Criminal Record Check Fee Schedule.5
Level 2 Background Check Florida
A level 2 background check utilizes fingerprints, a complete FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) background inquiry. If specific offenses show up on a level 2 background check, they are allowable by law for an employer to reject someone’s employment. Then, you’ll know how far back does a background check go.
Free Background Check Florida
Those interested in conducting a free background check Florida may do so, but these are usually name-only searches utilizing databases available to the public, and many don’t give clear results or comprehensive background information. Every state has their own public records available, and Florida is included. The FDLE has their own website dedicated to fielding “free” background check inquiries but they aren’t actually free (the only way this is possible is through using a free background check provider offering a trial). They can be ordered for a small fee.
How Far Back Does a Level 2 Background Check Go in Florida?
It is important to note that a level 2 screening can go back to any point in a person’s history. There are only a few exceptions which include drug abuse prevention and controlled substances offenses which can only be used as a disqualifying factor going back five years. Title XXXI, Chapter 435 offers specific screening instructions and how background check data can be applied via Florida’s state legislature site.
Warrants and Background Checks in Florida
Do warrants show up on background checks? This is a question many people have when they are subject to a background check. A warrant typically does not show up on a criminal background check unless an arrest record is placed in a data system and the individual is arrested for charges named in the warrant.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibits employers from going back more than seven years in a criminal background check and cannot use information found that is older than seven years to make employment decisions. If the salary of a job is over $75,000 however, the following information may be used:
- Civil lawsuits aged more than seven years or past a statute of limitations
- Civil judgements aged more than seven years
- Arrests more than seven years old
There was a limitation on using criminal convictions more than seven years old, but this is lifted by the FCRA, so any of this information can be used to determine employment.
State of Florida Background Check: Why Seven Years?
Many people ask why criminal background checks for any purpose tend to go back seven years. In some states the laws allow a deeper dive, going back ten years, in other states, fewer, allowing only five. However, it is estimated that someone lives in 2.3 counties within a state on average over the span of seven years. When address history is matched with a social security number, then seven years is usually a sufficient span of time to look for criminal history in multiple jurisdictions where a crime is possibly perpetrated. Within a seven year history, often ten years of resident information is realized. At this point, county-level records are searched for applicable criminal history information.6
Florida Background Check for Employment
Employers must follow screening rules when checking a background for potential employees, but can disqualify them for many reasons if they are either a public or private company. It also depends on the type of employment that a person seeks.
The FDLE states that both state-level and national-level criminal history information is available to government agencies for licensing and employment screenings under Florida Law. There may be additional requirements if someone is looking to work at a school or need a concealed weapon permit. A potential employee should contact the local school district for background check information, and those looking to carry a concealed weapon can contact the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services licensing division.7
Level 2 Background Check Disqualifying Offenses Florida: A Checklist
Disqualifying offenses include the following and can be cited as a reason for not hiring a potential candidate for employment without the employer worrying about Title VII ramifications:
- Sections 393.135 and 394:4593: sexual misconduct
- Section 415.111: adult abuse, neglect or exploitation of anyone disabled or aged
- Section 777.04: solicitation and conspiracy to commit an offense listed herein
- Section 782.04: murder
- Section 782.07: manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter of an elderly or disabled person or child
- Section 782.071: vehicular homicide
- Section 782.90: killing an unborn child by injury to the mother
- Chapter 784: assault or battery
- Section 794.011: sexual battery
- Section 787.01: kidnapping
- Section 787.02: false imprisonment
- Section 787.025: luring or enticing a child
- Section 787.04(2): taking a child beyond state limits within custody proceedings
- Section 790.115(1): exhibiting firearms within 1000 feet of a school.
- Section 790.115(2): having a weapon on school property
There are many other disqualifying offenses, all of which can be found within Title XXXI, of the Florida State Employment Screening of Chapter 435.8
Criminal Background Check Florida: What Shows Up?
There are many data points that are revealed on a criminal background check conducted in Florida, including:
- Information about the charge
- The date the case is filled
- Disposition of the case and the date it is disposed
- Level of sentence (a misdemeanor or felony)
- Sentencing information8
Level 3 Background Check Florida
A level 3 background check is similar to those conducted in other states. It looks into criminal history, education (including certifications, degrees, dates of graduation, etc.), residences, employment history, criminal history, and personal reference checks. A level 3 background check is often accompanied by pre-employment drug testing if needed. Many more databases are used in a level 3 background check, and may include:
- The OIG database for verification
- U.S. DOJ
- U.S. Treasury Dept.
- U.S. State Dept.
- Multi-state databases
Florida Public Records: Searching the Databases
There are several databases available to the public to search for criminal history, employment history, residence history, and other information within the state of Florida, including marriage and divorce records.
Divorce Records Florida
Florida divorces and marriages are public information as long as they happen within a family court and are not expunged or removed from court records. These records are often used to verify name and association with another person. In some cases, they are used to determine character.
Florida Marriage License Search
Marriage licenses can be difficult to look up, even though they are public record, since the searcher needs to know the county and court in which the marriage is filed. Some background checks will show marriage information by default simply through name changes that show up in a database for a single party (usually the woman who changes her name and takes her husband’s surname.)9
Conducting a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Background Check
Employers and others seeking background checks can no longer submit an email request to Florida, but must now utilize criminal history information via online data repositories according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE):
State of Florida Public Records: 3 Types of Search
- Instant Search: This is an internet-based search with varying results that gives immediate feedback to be printed or mailed. The results are not certified, meaning there could be inaccuracies. Each search costs $24.00. This type of search uses Criminal History Information available on FDLE’s central repository of criminal history data in Florida. Sometimes the results returned are empty. This could mean:
- The background check doesn’t uncover an arrest that’s fingerprinted for a serious offense due to reporting errors.
- The record is sealed.
- The background check fingerprint card is sent to FDLE but it is not entered yet.
- The crime is committed more than seven years ago.
- The crime is logged in a state other than Florida.
- The crime is an offense committed by a juvenile.
- ORI Search: This search can be conducted via the FDLR database with an ORI number. ORI stands for Originating Agency Identifier Number. This is used by law enforcement agencies to ensure that fingerprints are sent to the right state department prior to lookup. It usually starts with two or three letters followed by a nine digit code. This should not be confused with an OCA number which stands for Originating Agency Code.10
- The Certified or Non-Certified Search: This search type utilized FDLE staff to conduct a search based on information provided by the person conducting the background check, such as a name, address, or employment location. The results can be notarized and are returned through regular US Mail. Non-certified processing takes much longer, up to 4 weeks or more.
Background Check Florida: Frequently Asked Questions
In an effort to keep Florida’s laws as transparent as possible within this official guide on Florida background and criminal background checks, following are questions that both those running criminal background checks and those subjected to them, ask.
Q: What’s a Background Check?
A: Background checks come in many forms, but they are used to gather information collected by various credit agencies, law enforcement agencies, employers, and other reporting agencies to paint a picture about someone’s financial habits, employment history, and criminal history. In more extensive background checks a person’s social interactions and social media may be analyzed to determine character or trustworthiness.
Q: Are Children Protected from Background Checks?
A: In most instances individuals under the age of 18 cannot have any record used to deny them credit, employment, or rental status. However, a background check may be conducted on family members of an adoptive parent all the way to the age of 12. Expunged or sealed records are still not admissible.
Q: Can I Use Background Check Information as I Like If I’m Looking into a Possible Employee’s Past?
A: Florida state laws allow extensive views into criminal records, employment, credit worthiness, residency, and other information held on public record. The only instance where it is ill-advised to not hire someone due to something that shows up on a criminal background check is if it should not be on record, it is incorrect (not verified with cross-referenced data from national and state databases), is on record when the potential employee was a minor and the crime is committed when someone is under 18, or if the data suggests a misdemeanor that doesn’t currently interfere with someone’s ability to perform.
In that case, should they be turned down for employment, the potential employee might have cause to start litigation under the Civil Rights Act. If any of the offenses are in the list provided by the FDLE, then an employer is completely within their right to refuse employment and is protected from legal action.
Q: Can I Run a Background Check on Someone Even If I Don’t Intend to Hire Them?
A: Anyone can run a background check on another person, for any cause. Public data is available at the FDLE for a small fee.
Q: Does Florida Have Ban the Box laws that Prevent Me from Searching a Potential Employee’s Criminal History?
A: Florida state does not have ban the box laws, but jurisdictions within the state prevent some employers from searching criminal databases or even asking to. These include Clearwater, Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Miami-Dade, Orlando, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Tallahassee for public jobs.
Q: Does FDLE’s Database Have Accurate Information?
A: Sometimes FDLE’s databases return empty fields, or “no record” if someone has a criminal background. This only indicates that no files were found in their search. There could be criminal activity listed in national databases or nearby state databases that don’t register in Florida’s database. For this reason it may be important to conduct both state and national criminal background checks for C-Suite level positions, jobs that require someone to interact with children or the elderly, or others that might be vulnerable.
If you need to know how to remove criminal record from background check, it will depend on when the offense happened, how long it’s been on your record, and if it’s expunged. For erroneous reporting, contact the agency that is reporting the data in error in writing. They have 30 days to rectify the problem.
Q: How Do Florida’s Background Checks Laws Compare to Other States?
A: Every state has its own laws regarding background checks. For instance, Texas is similar to Florida in that most background checks go back 7 years. However, if someone is applying for a job that pays more than $75,000 then it is admissible to go all the way back to the age of eighteen. New York has newly passed laws that provide certain protections for those applying for employment that have criminal records via the Fair Chance Act. Under this law an employer must offer employment prior to conducting a background check for certain jobs.11
Q: Does a Landlord Have to Inform You that They’re Conducting a Background Check?
Q: Does an Employer Have to Inform You that They Are Doing a Background Check?
A: Yes, employers are required by law to get your permission to run a background check. However, it’s important to note this may not always be verbally communicated and may instead be included as part of the application process itself. In other words, your completion and submission of the job application may be deemed consent, especially for jobs in Florida that require background checks conducted, by law, such as healthcare workers.
Q: I’m an HR Professional and I’m Unsure If I Can Use a Criminal Record that Was Disposed More than Seven Years Ago. What Can I Do?
A: Consult your company’s legal team for clarification, but if the criminal data that shows up on the results is verifiable and is either a felony or misdemeanor charge, it may be cause for eliminating someone from a job position, depending on a number of factors.
Q: Why Do Employers Opt to Do Background Checks?
A: A single “bad” hire can cause financial and interpersonal damage at a company. Some estimate that 6% of hires result in occupational fraud and 45% of job applicants may not tell the whole truth on their job applications. For this reason 95% of employers do background checks to ensure that they know exactly who they’re hiring for a position.12
Although Florida law does encourage the use of criminal history checks in order to provide employers with a defense from negligent hiring practices, they are not required, unless specifically stated in the statutes, such as for positions that require contact with children.
Q: How Does an Employer Decide What Type of Background Check to Conduct in Florida?
A: A level 1 background check that uses name and employment history only is a common background check that employers seek when they want to look at general, local information about a potential employee. A level 2 background check is more likely to pull criminal history since it uses fingerprints. The type of job may dictate, by law, a level 1, level 2, or even level 3 or 4 check if someone is entrusted with company finances, hiring and firing decisions, proprietary information, they are working with children or the elderly, or their influence in the company is significant.
Q: I Want to Conduct a Background Check on Someone that Pulls Records from More than Just Florida. What Can I Do?
A: National databases, including the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) holds information on anyone who has applied for a firearm. It’s open 17 hours a day, available by phone, and includes information from 30 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. An additional 13 states also perform checks individually, with their own data systems through NICS.
NICS performs a background check on an arm’s buyer, and with over 300 million checks completed, 1.5 million result in denials, This is a much more extensive database for turning up criminal records than a state-by-state criminal background check.13 Companies can also determine if there is free information from county court houses and state data based on the address history that an applicant provides. If something questionable shows up in a municipal court or state data system, then a national criminal background check can be conducted to gather more information.
Q: What Can I Do If Someone Pulls Up Criminal Information that Is Not Mine?
A: Erroneous records do occur. Often they’re due to a mismatched or similar name or data entry errors. You can contact the data reporting agency that has the criminal incident listed in writing and prove that you’re not the person they claim that you are by showing your birth certificate, your social security card, or other forms of identification that would distinguish you from the person on record. The Fair Credit Reporting Act protects you if you are subject to identity fraud or if there are erroneous records listed in your name.
Q: Do Free Search Companies Online Work for Digging Up Information on Other People for a Background Check?
A: While there are many companies that provide name-only, as well as state checks, most “free” services don’t verify social security numbers, search limited databases, and don’t give a comprehensive look into someone’s history.
Q: Is a Background Check the Same as a Credit Check or Consumer Check?
A: According to the law, a background check is any third party inquiry into someone’s character, general reputation, general characteristics, employment history, resident history, or “mode of living” of a person that can allow or disallow credit, insurance, government benefits, employment, or licensing that’s initiated by an individual. This means that “background checks” are regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and there must be reasonable procedures in place to guarantee the accuracy of third-party reports.
Q: Does the Fair Credit Reporting Act Have Anything to Do With Background Checks?
A: Yes. All background checks conducted by a third party are regulated by the FCRA. The Federal Trade Commission has made provisions for fair, accurate, and confidential reporting of your personal information. This means that:
- You must be told when information found in your background check is used against you for employment, acceptance into schools, licensing, adoption, or any other cause.
- You have a right to know what is in your own data files.
- You have the right to ask for your own credit score.
- You have the right to dispute any information that is not correct.
- Third party agencies must remove any information that is not verifiable, erroneous, or incomplete within 30 days of being notified that the information is inaccurate.
- Negative information that is more than seven years old (10 years in some states) cannot be included in your credit reports.
- You can place a security freeze on your report if you believe you are subject to identity fraud. If an employer or someone extending credit, like a landlord sees the flag of a freeze on your report, they must take extra steps to verify your identity.
- You are legally within your rights to seek damages from any agency that reports negative information about you and does not remove it once it has been identified.
- Individuals in the military have extra rights concerning identity theft or fraud.
You can contact one of the following agencies if you find erroneous information on a credit or background check:
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 1700 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20552
Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20580
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Customer Assistance Group
1301 McKinney Street, Suite 3450 Houston, TX 77010-9050
Federal Reserve Consumer Help Center P.O. Box 1200
Minneapolis, MN 55480
FDIC Consumer Response Center
1100 Walnut Street, Box #11 Kansas City, MO 64106
National Credit Union Administration
Office of Consumer Financial Protection (OCFP) Division of Consumer Compliance Policy and Outreach
1775 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 2231414
If you are uncertain of which agency to submit your request to, call one of the numbers listed, briefly explain your situation, and they can usually direct you to the correct agency to report errors. You may also contact the local jurisdiction that is responsible for the incorrect information. Many of these records are entered manually, and human error can occur. So, it can be wise to conduct a background check on yourself before applying for housing, adoption or a job to ensure that there aren’t any errors that could disqualify you.
If you do find errors, but don’t have the time or are worried about correcting the information yourself, you can contact an attorney who specializes in criminal court records. A lawyer will often be able to expedite the correction.
Summing Up Florida’s Background Check Laws
Florida’s background check and criminal background inquiry laws are extensive and detailed, with multiple databases available to check public records for name-only or social security-based inquiries. Multi-state and federal background inquiries are always more revealing when it comes to a person’s history, though, so in addition to a Florida state background check, an employer, landlord, or other party may desire to conduct searches in every state that a person resides in over a ten year period to uncover the most comprehensive information. For more in-depth criminal background information the FBI’s databases can also be tapped using a person’s fingerprints, which often provides a much more accurate history search.
Both those conducting background checks and those people subjected to background checks have rights and responsibilities concerning how the information is used. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect personal information, as well as erroneous data reported to any agency. People who find erroneous data on their background checks have legal recourse to remove it.
A background check Florida style can help protect potential employers, landlords and lessees, adoptive parents, and anyone who needs to examine comprehensive data on a person’s qualities, character, and past history.
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