Employers want criminal background checks

A group representing employers across the country has asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to closely examine new guidelines on the use of criminal background checks to screen job applicants. The group says the regulations threaten to undermine employers’ attempts to protect their customers and employees.

Criminal background questions need to remain on employment applications, says Richard Mellor, vice president for loss prevention for the National Retail Federation in Washington, DC. “This vital information is every bit as relevant as an applicant’s education, previous employment experience, and formal training,” Mellor says.

Mellor was among witnesses testifying at a hearing the civil rights panel held recently on guidelines issued in April 2012 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC did not ban criminal background checks but indicated that refusing to hire someone who has a criminal record could constitute illegal discrimination if the practice disproportionately affect minority groups.

“Employers who ask about criminal backgrounds run the risk of being charged with discrimination, but those who do not are not provided with any legal protection against lawsuits if an unscreened hire later commits a crime on the job,” he says. “Earlier interpretations of the guidelines were working fairly, but this overly burdensome guidance will add risk, increase expenses, and cause confusion and legal challenges.”

The guidelines were enacted without giving employers a chance for input, Mellor says. Hearings were held only with a “select group of predetermined stakeholders,” and actual text of the guidelines was released only the same morning that they were approved and implemented by the EEOC. Employers were given no phase-in period to adjust to the new guidelines, he says.


  • Richard Mellor, Vice President of Loss Prevention, National Retail Federation, Washington, DC. Telephone: (800) 673-4692. Email: mellorr@nrf.com.