Posts Tagged ‘criminal background check’

The EEOC voted 4-1 to release enforcement guidance regarding the use of arrest and conviction records in the hiring process. With the easy availability of criminal records today, and a population who is increasingly coming into contact with the criminal justice system, particularly African-American and Hispanic men, the EEOC determined that updated guidance was needed. While acknowledging that having a criminal history is not a protected class under Title VII, liability may lie where an employer’s reliance on a criminal record to deny employment treats an employee differently due to his or her protected status or disproportionately screens out a protected group without relation to the position and business necessity.

The issue of whether an employer’s policy disparately treats a protected group is usually much easier to determine. Essentially, if an employer’s background check process treats an applicant from a protected group differently than an applicant outside that group (regardless of whether the other applicant is also in a protected group), then a finding of disparate treatment is likely.

However, determining whether a facially neutral criminal background check policy disparately impacts applicants in a protected group requires significantly more analysis. If an applicant can show that the employer’s policy eliminates members of a protected group more than applicants that are not part of the protected group, which may be as simple as showing that members of the protected group are arrested and convicted at a higher rate, the policy likely has a disparate impact. The employer must then show that the policy is justified in light of the job requirements and the necessities of the business.

In determining whether the policy is job related and consistent with business necessity, the EEOC emphasizes that arrests and convictions must be treated differently. An arrest is not sufficient to deny employment, but an employer may make the employment decision based upon the conduct underlying the arrest, if the conduct makes the applicant unfit for the job. The important distinction is the focus on the conduct, not the arrest. In short, the conduct may be considered if it would be sufficient to deny employment if the applicant had not been arrested.

Conviction records tend to be more reliable, and therefore, may be acceptable grounds for denying employment. However, the Commission does recommend that employers refrain for asking about convictions on job applications and limit any inquiries to those related to the position. To show that the policy operates to deny employment only to those applicants whose criminal conduct, and the dangers it indicates, are linked to the risks of the position, employers should either:

  • create a screening process that is narrowly tailored, with the process validated per the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures or
  • develop a screening process where, upon screening out an applicant, an individualized assessment is conducted

The individualize assessment requires notifying the applicant and allowing him or her to demonstrate that they should not be excluded. The employer should consider a number of factors during the assessment, including: the circumstances of the conduct, the number of convictions, whether the same time of work was performed post-conviction, the employment history before and after the conviction, rehabilitation efforts and character references. While quite onerous, if the applicant does not cooperate with the employer’s efforts to gather information, a decision may be rendered with the information the employer was able to gather. While not mandatory, the Commission does note that a screening process with an individual review will be less likely to violate Title VII.

Where federal laws and regulations disqualify convicted applicants from certain occupations, the employer is entitled to deny employment based on applicable convictions. However, state and local laws that limit or prohibit the employment of applicants with certain criminal convictions are preempted by Title VII and are not a viable defense.

In light of this new guidance, employers would be wise to eliminate policies where applicants are excluded for any negative criminal history, in favor of a policy that is narrowly and specifically tailored to the open position, with an individual review process. In order to narrowly and specifically tailor the policy, the employer should consider the requirements of the job and the liability risks that the job entails, and then determine the specific offenses that indicate unfitness for performing job. Consideration must also be given to the duration of the exclusion based on the available evidence. Finally, and of great importance, managers and other hiring decision-makers must receive training regarding the new hiring procedure in order to ensure that the criminal background check policy is implemented as intended and in compliance with Title VII.

This article is authored by attorney Casey L. Sipe and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Background Checks Aren’t For Everyone

Employers routinely use background checks when hiring new employees, without considering the consequences of using them on every applicant. The EEOC’s current standing policy provides that criminal background checks should be limited to only those positions where such information is “job-related and of business necessity,” and should only seek information about convictions, not arrests.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act, in addition to providing rules regarding credit checks, imposes a number of requirements on employers seeking to obtain a criminal background check.  Before obtaining a criminal background check, an employer must disclose in writing to an individual that the report may include in-depth information about his or her character, general reputation, personal characteristics, mode of living, criminal, driving and work history.  The disclosure must be delivered no later than three days after the report was first requested and include a statement informing the individual of their right to request additional disclosures and receive a written summary of legal rights. If an individual requests additional information about the investigation, the employer must mail or otherwise provide the information within five days of receipt of the written request, or the request date of the report, whichever is later. Employers must take “reasonable measures” to protect against unauthorized access to or use of information in connection with the disposal of consumer information.

In order to prevent legal trouble, employers can take a few easy steps. Employers should have a clear reason for requiring a criminal background check, relating to the open position. For example, a position where the applicant will have access to the employer’s or customer’s money could require a background check to ensure that the applicant does not have any fraud convictions. In addition, employers should discuss the information they are allowed to consider with legal counsel, and then limit the background check to that information, so that no improper information is included in the background check, which ensures that there is no chance that improper information would be considered during the hiring process. Finally, blanket policies, where every applicant is given a background check, should be avoided. A discussion with legal counsel can provide specific guidance on when criminal background checks are appropriate, and what information can be sought.

This article is authored by attorney Casey L. Sipe and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice.  Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.

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Posted in Labor & Employment | No Comments »