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Best Practices for Background Checks

A major retailer faces a lawsuit from a prison ministry organization and a job applicant who allege the employer’s application process discriminates against individuals with a criminal history.

According to the lawsuit, the retailer applies an overly-strict process of eliminating any individual with a criminal history, regardless of the nature of the crime or when it occurred. As a result, the screening policy “disproportionately disqualifies Black and Latinx applicants and employees from job opportunities.”

The case involves one qualified applicant who received a job offer, only to have the retailer rescind the offer when her criminal background check revealed a traffic-related misdemeanor conviction from 10 years prior. Brianna Smith “Macy’s Hit with Discrimination Lawsuit Over Criminal History Screening Policy” www.legalreader.com (Jun. 28, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

A thorough screening process is a best practice for any employer hoping to hire a new employee. This can include credit checks (depending on the job position); interviews with personal references; interviews with professional references; skills testing; medical testing (post-offer); and a criminal history background check.

Criminal background reports will disclose both arrests and convictions of felonies and misdemeanors. They also reveal court records, warrants, sex offenses and incarceration records. However, employers need to tread carefully when using this information to make employment decisions.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) encourages employers to avoid blanket practices that exclude people from employment based on criminal record, and instead manage each applicant on a case-by-case basis. Employers should consider the nature and gravity of the crime, when it occurred and the nature of the job. Also, employer should give the applicant an opportunity to respond to the report and their past criminal offense.

Also, keep in mind that many states have passed “Ban the Box” laws that prohibit inquiring about criminal records on a job application form. This is to enable an applicant to make it through the interview process, perhaps as a finalist, and then to have their past offense evaluated for any relevancy to the job under consideration now.

Here are further considerations to help employers limit the discrimination risk associated with criminal background checks in the hiring process:

  • Train managers, hiring officials, and decision-makers about Title VII and its prohibition on employment discrimination.
  • Develop a narrowly tailored written policy and procedure for screening applicants and employees for criminal conduct using the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance and individualized assessments. https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/smallbusiness/facts/tips_criminal_records.cfm; https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm
  • Identify essential job requirements and the actual circumstances under which the jobs are performed and determine the specific criminal offenses that may demonstrate unfitness.
  • Determine the duration of exclusions for criminal conduct based on all available evidence.
  • Document any determinations made regarding an applicant’s criminal record, and the justification for your employment decisions.
  • When asking questions about criminal records, limit inquiries to records for which exclusion would be job-related and consistent with business necessity.
  • Keep information about applicants’ and employees’ criminal records confidential and only use the information for the purpose for which it was intended.

Written exclusively for ChubbWorks, the employment practices liability carrier for MJ Sorority, January 21, 2020.