The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been pursuing employers whom it believes overstep legal boundaries when conducting criminal background checks.  This is a cause for concern for employers, since an estimated ninety-two (92%) percent of organizations conduct criminal background checks on their applicants.

Two recent settlements make it clear that if your company has an unnecessarily broad criminal background check practice or policy, it could be, according to the EEOC, in violation of the law.

Pepsi Beverages, Inc. agreed to pay $3.13 million and provide job offers and training to resolve a racial discrimination claim. The EEOC claimed Pepsi’s policy, which allegedly excluded more than three hundred (300) African-American applicants from permanent employment, including some who had never even been convicted of an offense, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).   Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of, among other things, race.

In another case, Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS) was accused of unlawfully denying a black job applicant employment based on a thirty (30) year-old conviction for involuntary manslaughter.  As part of a settlement with the EEOC, ISS agreed to change its employment advertisements and job applications, in to comply with its own policy that individuals with criminal convictions would not automatically be denied work.

Criminal background checks can be an effective screening tool to find relevant information about job candidates. However, it’s crucial for employers to understand when the results of background checks can be used to exclude job applicants, and when utilizing such results may run afoul of both state and federal law.