Will Today’s EEOC Hearing on Criminal Background Checks Be Fair?

Nick Fishman

Today, the EEOC will hold a hearing to exam their position on employers’ use of criminal background checks.  They held a similar meeting on employment credit reports late last year, and will no doubt duplicate their “open-minded” approach to weighing each side of the argument fairly.  And by fairly, I mean that they will railroad anyone that disagrees with their concerns that criminal background checks are discriminatory and should be significantly curbed.

Here’s the thing.  Yes, a higher percentage of minorities are arrested and convicted than whites.  But can it be proven that they are arrested and convicted because they are minorities or is it because they were actually engaged in criminal activity?  Further, we definitely have a problem in this country with recidivism whereby those convicted of crimes often return to criminal activity again and again.  Many suggest that the primary reason for such recidivism is that they cannot find jobs because employers will not hire people with criminal records.

Fine. I’ll acknowledge these arguments.  I’ll also tell you that I am all for rehabilitation and programs designed to get convicts back to work.  However, the EEOC would prefer to keep employers in the dark about someone’s past and risk the chance of a host of criminal activity from theft to murder to correct the problem.

And this is where I think the EEOC is dead wrong.  Just ask Lucia Bone how she feels about the necessity of criminal background checks.  Her sister was brutally raped and murdered in her own home by a service worker who was not vetted before he was hired.  If the employer would have conducted a background check, the employer would have known that this person was a convicted sex offender.  Tell that to the family of Nan Todor, who was murdered in her Chicago hotel room by a maintenance man who also was not screened.  He too, had serious conviction records that the hotel should have known about.

The EEOC continues to ask how we know that our industry helps employers make sound hiring decisions.  How do you prove a negative?  How can we show that we prevented something from happening if we provided information that caused an employer not to hire someone?

The answer is not to prevent employers from conducting background checks.  After all, does anyone believe that the EEOC doesn’t consider such information before filling a position?  The answer is to invest in programs such as GOSO, an organization that helps convicted felons reintegrate into society.  They help convicts educate themselves, provide resources for battling addiction, find safe places for them to live and teach them how to find jobs.  When I met with GOSO founder and president, Mark Goldsmith last February he told us that he doesn’t blame employers for conducting background checks.  They need to protect themselves.  However, he also said that they people that go through his program as far less likely to return to crime than those that do not have the resources he provides.

There is a job for everyone out there.  But not everyone is qualified for every job.  I hope the EEOC is willing to openly and honestly listen to all sides today.

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