Several weeks ago the article, How criminal background checks lead to discrimination against millions of Americans,’ by Sarah Lageson was published in Washington Post and it caused a bit of an uproar in the background screening community. Several prominent members of the industry posted comments very critical of the article choosing to focus on the aspects of the article which they felt misrepresented the background industry. I totally get where they are coming from, however, in my humble opinion, they missed the point of the article.
When I read several of the comments about the article it put me on the ‘horns of a dilemma.’ On one hand, I am very clear that I make my living by selling services to the background screening industry. At the same time, I am very uncomfortable with the role the industry continues to play as a contributor to perpetrating discrimination against underserved communities in our country and has made the conscious choice to turn a blind eye to this injustice. Please note, in my eyes, ‘doing nothing’ about a known problem is turning a blind eye.
As a person of color, despite the potential challenge to my livelihood, I cannot stand quiet on the sidelines and be complicit about this issue. I am reminded of the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We are at point of controversy in this country and I want history to note that I stood up for what I believe is right.
First, let me be clear about the injustice I am referring to. The background screening industry thrives on and makes money by providing information to employers to help them make hiring decisions. This information provided to employers includes information gathered about an individual’s encounter with the criminal justice system, e.g., arrest, booking and convictions, which are based on a Police officer’s decision. If the officer’s decision is based on racism the information from this encounter is then baked into the information that is collected and reported by background screening companies. This is no small matter because criminal records are by far the most prevalent type of background check conducted by employers.
It is well established by research that people of color, especially African-Americans and Hispanics are much more likely to have negative encounters with the criminal justice system. And, when this information is used in hiring decisions it potentially can lead to disparate treatment and illegal discrimination. As I am sure you will recall this was the genesis of the creation of the ‘Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions’ in April 2012. The intent of these guidelines is to reduce the negative impact of the improper use of arrest and criminal records in hiring decisions. The issuing of the EEOC Guidelines should have been a wake up call for the background screening industry.