Thursday, October 21, 2010

EEOC holds public hearing on credit histories and employee selection criteria

Yesterday, the EEOC held a public hearing on the use of credit histories as selection criteria in employment. It heard testimony from representatives of the National Consumer Law Center, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Council of Negro Women, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Society of Human Resources Management, in addition to lawyers and psychologists. Following the hearing, the EEOC posted a press release summarizing the testimony. It has also posted the prepared remarks of the people testifying
Kudos to the EEOC for presenting a balanced panel of representatives of both employee interests and business interests, even though it is trying to further an agenda against the use of credit histories in employment. Sara Murray, reporting at the Wall Street Journal, synthesizes the core debate between employee advocates the business advocates on this issue:
The underlying concern is that poor credit could become a barrier to landing a job. Employers contend credit checks help them evaluate candidates and protect against fraud. Another concern is the potential discriminatory impact on hiring…. Opponents of the practice cite studies showing that African-Americans and Latinos tend to have lower credit scores. They also dispute whether credit reports are an accurate way to measure an employee’s qualifications.
Proponents of credit checks, which include fraud examiners and credit-reporting groups as well as employers, contend the histories are an important screening tool for employers and tend to be used sparingly…. Michael Eastman, an executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the EEOC that employers take individuals’ circumstances into account. Many at the hearing stressed that employers look for a pattern of careless financial behavior, not one-time events. “It’s very easy for the best, well-intentioned people to have very difficult times,” he said. “Employers recognize that.” Credit checks can also be used as a tool to protect businesses against fraud, supporters argue.
Blanket prohibitions on any practice are usually not a good idea. In this area, there are good reasons to allow the use of credit checks for job candidates. Consider the following, cited during yesterday’s EEOC testimony by Christine Walters of the Society for Human Resource Management and Pamela Devata of Seyfarth Shaw:
  • While 60% of employers use credit checks to vet job candidates, only 7.8% use them for all candidates.
  • Employers generally conduct credit checks when the information is relevant to the particular position: jobs with financial or fiduciary responsibilities (91% of employers), senior executives (46%), and jobs with access to confidential employee information (34%).
  • Employers do not use credit checks to screen out applicants before they can even get in the door. 57% of businesses only initiate credit checks after a contingent offer, and another 30% only after the job interview.
  • Credit checks can help protect against employee theft and fraud. In 44.7% of cases of employee fraud, the perpetrators were experiencing financial difficulties, and in 44.6% of cases they were living beyond their means.
  • According to credit report provider Experian, employers never see credit scores. However, most of the research on the disparities in credit histories between racial groups is based on those scores. It is unfair to hold employers accountable for the scores they never see.
Additionally, it is not as if employees are without protections when employers seek to use credit histories in employment decisions. There is an entire federal statute— the Fair Credit Reporting Act—that provides myriad hoops for employers to jump through before and after using credit information. It also requires that employees give their consent before an employer can even request a credit history. And, Title VII prohibits the discriminatory use of credit histories. To per se prohibit employers from using information that is relevant to many positions simply does not make sense from a business perspective, and HR perspective, or an EEO perspective.

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