Big Red Bullesye makes Policy Change – SIgn of the times or Bad Move?

As I do most mornings I was watching Good Morning America and across the bottom of the screen in their news scroll was an item which stated that Target had announced that they were removing from their employment application all questions pertaining to criminal records or offenses. Which poses the question above—is this a sign of the times or a bad move?

There is much that can be said for either response. In a letter dated August 29, 2013 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a response to a request to reconsider their April 2012 policy statement titled Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stated that there was the potential for disparate treatment under Title VII because of the tendency for certain demographic criteria being more inclined to be subject to criminal records than others. The EEOC never said that it was illegal to ask questions regarding criminal background checks; it only said that the use of them should be carefully analyzed to insure that you are not eliminating good candidates solely on the existence of a criminal record. Consider this as an example.

In order to keep the privacy of the parties in tact in will not name the parties, but there is a case in this country of an individual who had sexual relations with his girlfriend who was 15 when he was 17. He has been labeled as a Sexual Predator and a convicted felon. Would you look at his application for employment and immediately rule him out? Also on the news this morning was the case of a man released from prison on a murder charge, which DNA proved he never committed 20years after the fact? Would you rule him out for possible employment?

Do not take the tone of this post incorrectly. I firmly believe that there is a proper time and place for criminal background checks. In another life, while working for an international security agency I completed background checks for a national media organization. If you are dealing with a position that entails access to huge sums of money, do them. If you are dealing with issues that affect national security, do them. If you are going to be working with the vulnerable parts of our society (children and elderly) do them. But if you dealing with a rank and file employee be darn sure that you can justify their use.

This brings us to the question at hand. Target has said they are going to remove the questions pertaining to criminal records from their employment application. In a post on ThinkProgress.org (http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/29/2851711/target-employment-offenders/)Targetstated that starting at the beginning of next year, Target will wait until making a provisional job offer before inquiring about a prospective employee’s criminal record, giving candidates the chance to make their case before an employer passes judgment. The company’s decision comes just a few months after Minnesota — where Target is headquartered — approved a “Ban the Box” statute.

“The Box”can be one of the main barriers of re-entry for people with a criminal past.When an employer sees that box checked, it can be an automatic disqualifier.And the practice is so widespread that it can really hurt the chances for employment for ex-offenders. Surveys show that between 60 and 75percent of people with a criminal past can’t find a job for up to a year after they’ve been released.

Employment discrimination along these lines can also contribute to higher recidivism rates; when former inmates can’t find a job, they might feel that illegal activities — say drug dealing or theft — are their only inroad toward having money to live.

Does your organization use blanket criminal questions on the application? Does a positive response automatically generate a denial of employment? Can you justify that policy?Would love to hear from you on your thoughts.

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