Employers’ use of credit checks to screen job applicants is wide spread. A 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 60% of employers now check the credit of at least some applicants. Those candidates receiving poor credit scores are not hired. Employers who use credit checks maintain that how a person has handled his financial responsibilities is relevant to how they will perform in the job. They believe that someone having financial difficulties is more inclined to engage in risky behavior, such as stealing from the company.
Consumer advocates and others opposed to employers using credit checks to screen applicants, argue it leaves those who desperately need a job in dire circumstances. Once someone loses their job and is unable to pay their bills, their credit score plummets. This poor credit leaves them unable to find new work. As they slide deeper into debt, employers find them even less desirable and they are entrenched in circumstances from which they may never escape. Those opposed to using credit scores as a hiring screening tool, say it unfairly penalizes minorities; arguing there is no correlation between an individual’s credit score and their character or any job performance, and that credit reports are unreliable.
While using credit scores in making hiring decisions is not necessarily illegal, employers need to be careful. In some cases, credits checks can be found to be illegal if they have a disproportionate affect on minorities and other protected classes of workers.
As with a “no hire of those unemployed” policy, if an employer’s practice of using credit checks to select job hires is shown to have a disproportionate impact on race or another protected class, the employer must prove that using credit checks is job related and justified by business necessity. And then, even after showing a business necessity, the employer could be required to show that there was no alternative, non-discriminatory way of obtaining the same information.
A recent example of a lawsuit involving credit checks occurred in December 2010. The EEOC sued Kaplan Higher Education Corp., alleging that its use of credit history to screen job applicants discriminates against African Americans. The lawsuit alleges that Kaplan has routinely rejected job applicants because of bad credit and that this practice has an unlawful, discriminatory impact because of race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC maintains the job practice is “neither job related nor justified by business necessity.” The case is currently being litigated.
“Credit History: Is it any of your employer’s business?” The Rights Stuff Newsletter, Winter 2011. http://www.humanrights.state.mn.us/education/articles/rs11_1credit.html
“EEOC Files Nationwide Hiring Discrimination Lawsuit Against Kaplan Higher Education Corporation.” December 21, 2011. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/12-21-10a.cfm
Goldfarb, Zachary A. “EEOC suing Kaplan over alleged racial discrimination.” The Washington Post. December 22, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/21/AR2010122105136.html