Q1 2020: UPDATE OF LAWS AFFECTING EMPLOYMENT BACKGROUND SCREENING

Q1 2020: UPDATE OF LAWS AFFECTING EMPLOYMENT BACKGROUND SCREENING

As the year and a new decade unfold, we bring you this update on ban-the-box legislation and laws that restrict credit report usage in employment decisions. And no update would be complete without a reminder about a standard-setting federal appellate opinion from 2019 interpreting the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) disclosure requirement for an employment background check.

Let’s start with a reminder

In January 2019, the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in Gilberg v. California Check Cashing Stores, LLC made clear that any extraneous information in an FCRA disclosure form regarding an employment background check — even if the information is related to state-mandated expansions of consumer rights — violates the FCRA’s requirement that the disclosure must be in a document that consists solely of the disclosure.

Even seemingly innocuous content, such as asking for an acknowledgment that the candidate received the FCRA summary of rights or including a statement that hiring decisions are based on legitimate non-discriminatory reasons may run afoul of the FCRA. And any state and local notices regarding the background check must be provided in separate documents, as applicable to each candidate.

Experts believe that the number of class-action lawsuits brought under the FCRA for technical errors will continue to increase. But there is an easy way to comply:

Present the disclosure to the candidate in a separate, standalone, conspicuous document. Make it clear and simple. Keep it short.

Ban-the-box laws continue to proliferate

“Ban-the-box” measures – which generally prohibit employers from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history (including performing background checks) until later in the hiring process – continue to proliferate. Currently, 14 states (California; Colorado; Connecticut; Hawaii; Illinois; Maryland (effective February 29, 2020); Massachusetts; Minnesota; New Jersey; New Mexico; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont and Washington) and 22 local jurisdictions (Austin, TX ;Baltimore, MDBuffalo, NYChicago, ILCook County, ILColumbia, MODistrict of ColumbiaGrand Rapids, MIKansas City, MOLos Angeles, CA; Montgomery County, MDNew York City, NY;  Philadelphia, PA; Portland, ORPrince George’s County, MDRochester, NYSaint Louis, MO (effective January 1, 2021); San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Spokane, WA; Waterloo, IA (effective July 1, 2020 but lawsuit filed to strike down the ordinance); and Westchester County, NY) have such laws in place for private employers.

Be mindful of credit restrictions

Less popular than state and local legislatures on ban-the-box and prohibitions on salary history inquiries, credit check restrictions remain an important consideration for employers. Ten states CaliforniaColoradoConnecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada,OregonVermont, and Washington – as well as ChicagoDistrict of ColumbiaNew York City, and Philadelphia all place restrictions on employers’ use of credit reports with exceptions for the use of such checks when required by law or the responsibilities of the position.      

Arguably, the most imposing local credit report law to date continues to be the New York City’s Human Rights amendment that went into effect on May 6,2015, and made requesting and using consumer credit history for hiring and other employment purposes, with certain exceptions, an unlawful discriminatory practice. The law provides that a “consumer credit report” includes “any written or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency that bears on a consumer’s creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity or credit history.”Many legal experts hold that the broad scope of this definition not only prohibits obtaining a consumer credit report but also searches of liens, judgments, bankruptcies, and financially-related lawsuits if there is no exemption. There is no case law on this matter. 

On the national level the U.S. House of Representatives on January 29, 2020, passed legislation that prohibits employers from using credit reports for employment decisions, except when required by law or for a national security clearance. The bill also prohibits asking questions about applicants’ financial past during job interviews or including questions about credit history on job applications. The U.S. Senate, however, is not expected to introduce the legislation.

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