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Changes may prompt review of background check policies

August 14, 2013
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Indiana Lawyer Focus

For more than 20 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that an employer’s use of applicants’ criminal history in making employment decisions may constitute discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. The underlying premise has always been that because minorities are historically and statistically arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than their representation in the general population, the use of criminal records by employers in making hiring and retention decisions may be discriminatory.

erdel-katherine.jpg Erdel

The EEOC’s enforcement guidance

Citing increased access to criminal history information as motivation, the EEOC issued an updated “Enforcement Guidance” memo on this topic in April of 2012. This past June, the EEOC filed two lawsuits against employers alleging that the employers’ respective criminal background policies violated Title VII. The lawsuits both seem to highlight the EEOC’s increased interest in the potential discriminatory impact of employers’ use of criminal records in employment decisions.

In EEOC v. BMW Manufacturing Co., LLC, pending in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, the EEOC alleges that BMW’s background check policy disproportionately screened out African-Americans and that the policy is not job related or consistent with business necessity. The second suit, a nationwide lawsuit pending in District Court in Chicago, EEOC v. Dolgencorp (which does business as Dollar General), addresses discrimination charges filed by two rejected black applicants. That suit alleges that Dollar General conditions its job offers on criminal background checks and that the policy results in a disparate impact against blacks.

Indiana law

States, including Indiana, are also showing an increased interest in this area. Though there is no federal law or law in Indiana prohibiting employers from using criminal background information in the hiring process, a new state background check law includes several provisions aimed at limiting the types of information that may be disclosed to employers in Indiana.

Effective July 1, 2013, House Enrolled Act 1033 (2012) permits Indiana residents with restricted or sealed criminal records to state on an employment application that they have not been adjudicated, arrested or convicted of the offense included in the restricted records. On the flip side, the new law prohibits employers from asking about sealed and restricted criminal records, and courts are prohibited from disclosing information related to certain infractions. For example, a court cannot disclose information related to an infraction (which generally includes traffic citations and other minor violations) when the individual has satisfied the judgment and five years has passed since that satisfaction. Criminal history providers may be penalized for violating this law, including up to $1,000 for a first violation, up to $5,000 for a second violation, actual damages, liquidated damages, and costs and attorney’s fees. The text of the bill can be found at: http://www.in.gov/legislative/bills/2012/HE/HE1033.1.html.

Appropriate use of criminal history information

While Indiana law and the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance provide clear guidance on certain prohibited conduct, many employers are still unclear on what they can and should do to appropriately use criminal history information in the hiring process. In its Enforcement Guidance, which can be found at www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm, the EEOC concludes that employers cannot exclude an applicant from employment based on an arrest record alone. The EEOC also recommends that “employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when [employers] make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Policy validation under the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance

The EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance goes on to suggest two methods under which an employer may be able to “validate” that its background check policy and use of criminal records to exclude individuals from employment is job related and consistent with business necessity.

The first involves validation using Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, found at 29 C.F.R §1607. However, the EEOC seems to acknowledge that this particular method is currently unworkable given the limited amount of empirical data on the links between certain conduct, criminal histories and job performance. As a result, most employers will likely need to rely upon the second method to determine whether its policies and practices are job related and consistent with business necessity.

Under the second method proposed by the EEOC, an employer first develops a “targeted screen” that considers, at a minimum, the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the offense or completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job. After an applicant has been preliminarily disqualified by the screen, the employer conducts an individualized assessment to determine whether the screen, as applied, is actually job related and consistent with business necessity.

For example, if employer XYZ determines that any individual who has been convicted of embezzlement in a business setting in the last five years should be preliminarily disqualified from a job as an accounting department manager, XYZ has likely created a reasonable “targeted screen” that takes into account the three factors required by the EEOC. However, when applicant John Doe applies for an accounting department manager position and is preliminarily screened out because of his four-year-old embezzlement conviction, XYZ must then talk with Mr. Doe and conduct an individualized assessment.

The EEOC provides a list of criteria that employers should consider in the course of an individualized assessment: whether the individual identified in the report is the same individual who has applied for the position; the facts or circumstances surrounding the conduct; the number of offenses; older age at the time of conviction or release; evidence that the individual has performed the same type of work successfully post-conviction; the length and consistency of employment history before and after the conduct; rehabilitation efforts (like education or training); employment or character references or other information regarding fitness for the position; and whether the individual is bonded under a state or local bonding program. Only after considering all of these factors should XYZ make its ultimate decision as to whether or not to hire Mr. Doe.

Simple, right? Not quite. As interest grows in this area and as the courts involved hand down decisions on related cases, additional guidance and examples should be forthcoming. In the meantime, all attorneys, especially those who advise employers, should familiarize themselves with the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance and HEA 1033 (2012).•

__________

Katherine G. Erdel is a member of Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP’s Labor and Employment Practice Group, focusing her practice in the areas of discrimination defense, wage and hour advice, general workplace policies, and employment agreements and covenants not to compete. Kate regularly advises clients in these areas and is familiar with background checks, pre-employment inquiries and other employment best-practice issues. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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