Hawaii Latest State to Put Limits on Use of Credit Reports

Over the Governor’s veto, the Hawaiian legislature passed a new law effective July 1, 2009 that put limits on the use of employment credit history or credit reports unless it “directly related to a bona fide occupations qualification,” or falls under another exception.

The bill amends the Hawaiian Fair Employment Practices Act by making it an unlawful discriminatory practice for any employer to refuse to hire or employ, continue employment or to bar or discharge from employment, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual in compensation or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of any individual because of the individual’s credit history or credit report, unless the information in the individual’s credit history or credit report directly relates to a bona fide occupational qualification. Hawaii Revised Statues Sec. 378-2(8).

The new law also indicates that in terms of hiring in the first place, the employer can only inquire into the credit history or credit report on a prospective employee only after there has been a conditional job offer, and only if the information is directly related to a bona fide occupational qualification.

The law makes exceptions for employers that are expressly permitted to inquire into credit history or a credit report by federal or state law, financial institutions that are insured by a federal agency or to managerial or supervisory employees. The law sets out a specific definition of what constitutes a “Managerial” or “Supervisory” employee.

The Governor’s strong veto message (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/Bills/GM813_.pdf ) argued that employers should not be subject to, “another restriction on employers that could impact their ability to protect the safety and financial security of their workplaces.” The Governor indicated that credit reports can have value in particular situations and that Congress has regulated the use of credit reports in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

For a copy and history of the new law, see: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2009/lists/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=31

It should be noted that even without the new law, an employer that obtains a credit report for employment does NOT obtain a credit score or FICO number. A credit score is not part of an employment credit report since it is not a valid predictor of job performance. However, as noted in an article in USA Today where ESR President Lester Rosen was quoted, credit reports have been strongly criticized for preventing some consumers from obtaining employment. http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-02-12-creditcheckinside_N.htm

The California legislature, in fact, passed a law in 2008 that would have severely restricted employment credit reports, but it was vetoed by the Governor and did not become law. The new Hawaii law is similar to a restriction passed in the State of Washington in 2007, that required a credit report to be substantially job-related and for the employer’s reasons for the use of such information to be disclosed to the consumer in writing. http://www.esrcheck.com/newsletter/archives/June_2007.php

It is likely that more states will be reviewing the use of credit reports and employment in the future.