Background checks: Proceed with caution!

By Linda H. Evans,
Senior Associate.


The EEOC filed lawsuits on June 11, 2013, against retailer Dollar General Corp, and a BMW manufacturing plant in South Carolina over their use of criminal background checks to screen out applicants or fire employees.  The agency claims the practice discriminates against African-Americans, who have higher arrest and conviction rates than whites.  The commission says it wants to reduce barriers to employment for those with past criminal records who “have been held accountable and paid their dues.”  So what is an employer to do?  We recommend you continue to do background checks.  But as we’ve cautioned before, steer clear of basing employment decisions on just arrest records.  Your focus should be on conviction records and even then, consider all the factors.  For example:  check for the age of the conviction, the age of applicant/employee at the time of the conviction, the type of conviction and the type of position being considered. A one-time 8-year-old conviction for shop-lifting by a teenager may have little relevance to a job today as a delivery person.  But a 2-year-old conviction for assault may be very relevant to a job today in a nursing home.  Each situation should be evaluated on a case by case basis.  If you have questions, or would like to see our guidelines for compliance, do not hesitate to call us!