The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled 25 years ago that it was illegal under the Civil Rights Act for companies to exclude people from employment based on arrest or conviction records — unless there was a compelling business reason. Since companies all over the country appear to be ignoring this important policy, the E.E.O.C. needs to strongly reaffirm the ruling and give employers detailed guidance on how to comply when it meets to consider this issue on Wednesday.
According to a startling 2011 report from the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group, about 90 percent of companies are using criminal background checks in hiring decisions and about 65 million people have criminal records. The group found that companies of all sizes routinely deny people with records any chance to establish their qualifications, even for entry-level jobs like warehouse worker. These blanket exclusion policies flout the E.E.O.C. rules. They also ignore research showing that many offenders who stay out of trouble for even a brief period after their original crimes present little or no risk to employers.The E.E.O.C. rules say employers may deny job opportunities to individuals based on prior conduct that might indicate a lack of fitness for the position, not just because of an arrest or conviction. They are allowed to consider the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since conviction and the nature of the job. But too many employers don’t even know there is a standard. The agency could remedy that by laying out the policy clearly, with examples. It also needs to enforce the rules broadly.