By Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Blog
According to a press release from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the EEOC held a public Commission meeting on Wednesday, October 20 to hear testimony from representatives of various groups, social scientists, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on the growing use of credit histories of job applicants as selection criteria during employment background screening.
The EEOC Chair commented that the discussion provided important input into EEOC’s work to ensure that “the workplace is made free of all barriers to equal opportunity.” She also said that as a result of high unemployment forcing more people into the job market, an increasing number of job applicants are exposed to employment background screening tools such as credit checks that could unfairly exclude them from job opportunities.
The Commission heard from a diverse set of experts, including one from the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) who expressed concerns that the use of credit histories creates a “Catch-22” situation for job applicants during the current period of high unemployment and high foreclosures, both of which have negative impacts on credit. Others explained using credit histories for employment purposes can have a disparate impact on protected groups, including people of color, women, and the disabled.
Representatives from the business community – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) – told the Commission that the use of credit histories is permissible by law, limited in scope, and predictive in certain situations of reliability. A recent survey from SHRM revealed that 13 percent of organizations conduct credit checks on all job candidates and another 47 percent consider credit history for selected jobs. Also, it is the experience of SHRM member companies that few organizations utilize credit histories for every job opening.
However, an industrial psychologist said that there is little research exploring the implications of using credit checks in the employment context and – given the potential for discriminatory exclusion – he concluded that it would be wise to use an applicant’s credit history only within the context of a thorough background check.
The statements of all the panelists at the meeting, along with their biographies, can be found on the EEOC website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/meetings/10-20-10/index.cfm. A complete transcript of the testimony will be posted later.