New guidelines set for employee background checks

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's updated policy on criminal background checks is part of an effort to rein in practices that can limit job opportunities for minorities that have higher arrest and conviction rates than whites.
By SAM HANANEL Published: April 26, 2012
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Is an arrest in a barroom brawl 20 years ago a job disqualifier? Not necessarily, the government said Wednesday in new guidelines on how employers can avoid running afoul of laws prohibiting job discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's updated policy on criminal background checks is part of an effort to rein in practices that can limit job opportunities for minorities that have higher arrest and conviction rates than whites.

“The ability of African-Americans and Hispanics to gain employment after prison is one of the paramount civil justice issues of our time,” said Stuart Ishimaru, one of three Democrats on the five-member commission.

But some employers say the new policy — approved in a 4-1 vote — could make it more cumbersome and expensive to conduct background checks. Companies see the checks as a way to keep workers and customers safe, weed out unsavory workers and prevent negligent hiring claims.

The new standard urges employers to give applicants a chance to explain a report of past criminal misconduct before they are rejected outright.

The EEOC also recommends that employers stop asking about past convictions on job applications. And an arrest without a conviction is not generally an acceptable reason to deny employment.

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