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Workzone: Indiscriminate Use of Background Checks Can Rile Authorities

Recent lawsuits filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offer a warning for employers — be careful about using background checks. While there has been an EEOC policy against the blanket use of criminal background checks in the hiring of workers since the 1980s, this spring the commission issued new guidelines to help better explain how such checks can be used. The problem starts with the disparate enforcement of laws. Research by the EEOC found that in 2010 African-Americans were the subjects of 28 percent of all arrests, even though African-Americans make up only 14 percent of the nation’s population. The effect that all of those extra arrests and subsequent convictions have on future employment if employers use criminal background checks for every job is that it puts African-Americans at a disadvantage for getting work. The EEOC’s guidance on the matter is that criminal background checks should be used as a fine brush for painting pictures of prospective employees, not as rollers that cover the whole canvas.

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