How Necessary Are Criminal Background Checks?

95-percent of all hiring employers require candidates to agree to criminal background checks before being a job is officially offered. At the same time, because the pool of unemployed workers has expanded greatly over the past few years, employers are stepping up their requirements for positions, not only for skills but also for the hurdles candidates need to go through: credit screenings and social media background checks among them. Employers, as well, have indirectly specified through advertisements that criminals won’t be considered. As a result, the EEOC held a hearing on the use of information from background checks in hiring decisions.

Depending upon its scope, background checks are used by employers for screening age, credit history, criminal background, and employment status; using any of these as a blanket hiring measure, as a result, discriminates against minorities, who are disproportionally affected by bad credit and criminal records.

Some states have already combated such potentially-discriminating hiring practices by banning credit checks in the hiring process, but other factors, as seen above, can be used against candidates.

But while criminal background checks can be used to unnecessarily discriminate, they’re also a must for the workplace. Although associating poor credit history with higher incidents of theft is now an antiquated assumption, those with recent criminal records should not be placed in positions dealing directly with children, the elderly, or the disabled, as past incidents have shown.

But criminal history, as well as all factors in a background check, needs to be taken into context. While a candidate with a job-relevant crime on his or her record should not be hired, not all criminals should be kept out of jobs. In the Wall Street Journal piece cited above, an EEOC spokesperson gave the following reasoning:

“It is of great concern to us that inaccurate information might be used to deny people employment. This is also an economic concern for communities, because if ex-offenders are not given jobs the chances are that they may re-offend.”