Key terms in the employment chapter

Before we discuss the laws that will affect you as you reenter the job market, let’s review a few key terms. (For more detailed definitions and explanations of these terms, see UNDERSTANDING & CLEANING UP YOUR RECORD CHAPTER, PG. 931).

Criminal Record: This is the general term we use for all of the information about your criminal history. Your “criminal record” includes arrests, charges against you, convictions, pleas, acquittals, dismissals, sentences, and any other time your contact with law enforcement was documented.

RAP Sheet: A RAP sheet (Record of Arrest and Prosecution) is the government’s official version of your criminal record. It lists every contact you’ve had with the criminal justice system, including arrests, convictions, acquittals, dismissals, and sentences.[1861] If you’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime in California, you could have 3 different RAP sheets:

    County RAP sheet—all of your criminal justice contact in a single county (so if you have arrests or convictions in more than one county, you will have a separate RAP sheet for each county);
    California DOJ RAP sheet—all of your contact with the criminal justice system across the state of California;[1862]
    FBI RAP sheet—all of your contact with the criminal justice system from anywhere in the U.S. (so if you have arrests or convictions in more than one state, all of these should show up on your FBI RAP sheet).[1863]

Background Check: This is the process of looking up information about someone’s past activities—their criminal records, finances and credit, or other personal information—through public records, Internet searches, or interviewing people you know. When you apply for a job, the employer is allowed to pay an outside company to run a background check on you — but only AFTER they have extended a conditional offer of employment.[1864]

IMPORTANT: You have legal rights when someone runs a background check on you! The law limits what information can be included in your background check, what information employers, landlords, and others can use, and when employers can use this information. You are allowed to challenge mistakes and violations related to your background check.


Consumer Report—This is the technical, legal name of the document that that is produced when an employer (or anyone else) runs a background check on you (produced by private companies called “Consumer Reporting Agencies”—see next definition). Since “consumer report” is the technical term, but not used by most, this Chapter uses the layperson term “background check reports.”

Reporting Agency—This is a company that investigates and produces background check reports.[1865] They’re also called Consumer Reporting Agencies (federal law) and Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies (state law), but this Chapter uses the layperson term “background check companies.”

  1. 1861

    U.S. Dep’t Justice v. Reporters Comm., 489 U.S. 749, 749 (1989).

  2. 1862

    See Cal. Penal Code § 11105.

  3. 1863

    28 C.F.R. § 16.31.

  4. 1864

    Cal. Gov. Code § 12952(a)(2).

  5. 1865

    15 U.S.C. § 1681a(p).