The EEOC is reviewing whether the use of arrest and criminal conviction information acts as a hiring barrier and whether employers should be precluded from asking about criminal convictions. The EEOC publicized the meeting in a press release titled Striking a Balance Between Workplace Fairness and Workplace Safety. Particularly troubling about this hearing is the fact that the EEOC appears to be looking at the issue as one of workplace fairness rather than discrimination. Workplace fairness is admirable, however, the EEOC’s mission and mandate is not to try and achieve workplace fairness. The EEOC’s mission is educate, investigate and enforce the protections put in place by Title VII and related laws. Stated differently, the EEOC is charged with ensuring that individuals are not treated differently because of their race, sex, color, religion, national original, age, and disability; not to ensure that the workplace is fair.
In my experience, few (if any) employers ask for or rely on arrest information in making hiring decision. I’ve never seen an employment application that stated that a criminal conviction would be an outright bar to employment. Most employers that seek criminal conviction information consider the nature and severity of the offense, the length of time since the offense occurred and the position for which the applicant is applying. Banning the box (i.e., prohibiting employers from asking about criminal convictions on applications) will result in employers needlessly interviewing applicants who, by the nature or severity of their crime, will not ultimately be hired. This is a waste of employer time and resources. Moreover, given the EEOC’s limited resources, its time, effort and money would be better spent on core mission rather than trying to administratively expand the scope of Title VII to effectively make convicted felons a protected class.
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