Could an Ancient Criminal Record Be Keeping You From a Job?

Could an Ancient Criminal Record Be Keeping You From a Job?

The EEOC discusses the impact of criminal record screenings on minority workers.

Published July 27, 2011

Among all racial groups, African-American unemployment hovers at 16.2 percent, the highest in the nation. For Black males, it's 17.5 percent, and for Black teens, it's nearly 41 percent.


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) believes that it’s not by chance that Black unemployment numbers are so high. On Tuesday, the commission held a meeting to examine a strong contributing factor to the Black unemployment crisis: the widespread use of criminal background checks.


The EEOC considers criminal background checks as a possible contributing factor to Black unemployment because 92 percent of employers conduct the screenings on some or all job applicants, according to a 2010 Society for Human Resources Management survey. In 1996, the number of criminal screenings was only 51 percent.


"As the use of background checks expands, many employers are routinely excluding all job applicants with criminal records from consideration, no matter how minor or dated their offenses," Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. "Background checks are meant to ensure a safe work environment, but many employers have gone way too far, shutting out highly qualified candidates without even bothering to ask common-sense questions: What was the conviction for? How long ago was it? Is it even relevant to this job? What's the person done with his or her life since?"


Due to the large increase of criminal screenings in less than 20 years, the EEOC is investigating how the federal government is dealing with employers who illegally screen out applicants based on prior arrests or convictions—without investigating the applicant’s age, relevance of the criminal record or seriousness of the crime, as described under the EEOC’s guidelines based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The EEOC guidelines regulating employers’ use of criminal records dates back over twenty years to 1987. In it the EEOC makes clear that "an employer's policy or practice of excluding individuals from employment on the basis of their conviction records has an adverse impact on Blacks and Hispanics in light of statistics showing that they are convicted at a rate disproportionately greater than their representation in the population."


Three years later the commission issued another guideline: Employers may not base an employment decision on a conviction record.


Today the EEOC is considering further revision and enforcement of discriminatory criminal record checks in an effort to help decrease the high Black unemployment rate.


We all make mistakes, but nothing is worse than being sentenced to a life of discrimination by society after legally serving your time.


(Related Video: Danielle Wright Investigates Life After Prison)


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(Photo: Astrid Riecken/Landov)

Written by Danielle Wright


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