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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Employers, Perform Criminal Background Checks at Your Peril

Most businesses perform criminal background checks on job applicants, but the EEOC guidance frowns on such checks and creates new legal tripwires that could spark federal lawsuits. One EEOC commissioner who opposed the new policy, Constance Barker, warned in April that "the only real impact the new Guidance will have will be to scare business owners from ever conducting criminal background checks. . . . The Guidance tells them that they are taking a tremendous risk if they do."

If a background check discloses a criminal offense, the EEOC expects a company to do an intricate "individualized assessment" that will somehow prove that it has a "business necessity" not to hire the ex-offender (or that his offense disqualifies him for a specific job). Former EEOC General Counsel Donald Livingston, in testimony in December to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, warned that employers could be considered guilty of "race discrimination if they choose law abiding applicants over applicants with criminal convictions" unless they conduct a comprehensive analysis of the ex-offender's recent life history.

It is difficult to overstate the EEOC's zealotry on this issue. The agency is demanding that one of Mr. Livingston's clients—the Freeman Companies, a convention and corporate events planner—pay compensation to rejected job applicants who lied about their criminal records.

The biggest bombshell in the new guidelines is that businesses complying with state or local laws that require employee background checks can still be targeted for EEOC lawsuits. 

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