Job applicants with criminal records may find employment under new EEOC policy

by Lewis Gainor on October 29, 2012

EEOC Policy on Convictions for Job Applicants

As anyone with a criminal record can tell you, one conviction can have a devastating impact on your future. When you apply for a job with a criminal record, you usually don’t expect to make it past the background check.

But that all may change soon under an important policy change with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC is a government agency that oversees the labor market and regulates hiring practices. The purpose of the EEOC is to prevent discrimination, and under the new policy initiative, that includes discrimination against people who have criminal records.

The EEOC announced a plan in which employers are directed to avoid using a background check as the sole reason for rejecting a job applicant. Announcing this new policy on April 25, 2012, the EEOC warned against disqualifying job applicants with criminal backgrounds:

“I would suggest to (businesses) that they think long and hard about why they think they need to do a criminal background check,” said John Hendrickson, the regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago district…

To avoid missteps, the EEOC suggests that companies consider three things: how long ago the crime was committed, the nature of the crime and how the crime might relate to the job. The agency also said companies should also give ex-offenders a chance during job interviews to explain conviction circumstances as well as rehabilitation efforts.

A person who applies for a job and is rejected on the sole basis of criminal record may have standing to file a lawsuit against the employer.

Even before the guidance was issued, companies were put on notice that they could be vulnerable to paying damages to people for using their criminal history background against them. In January, Pepsi was ordered in a court case to pay $3.13 million to black applicants who’d been denied work because of past arrests or minor convictions. As a result, Pepsi revamped its hiring procedures.

For more information about this new policy from the EEOC, read this statement of best practices regarding background checks.

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