Although the FCRA allows employers to consider credit reports for employment purposes, state laws that are more protective of employee rights trump the federal law. Eight states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) and at least one locality, the City of Chicago, limit the employers’ consideration of credit history in personnel decisions. And Colorado was just added to this list with its S.B. 18 that was signed into law on April 19, 2013. Aggressive legislative efforts are likely to continue. The most restrictive bill yet is pending before the New York City Council. It would prohibit employers from using credit reports in hiring except in few instances where such checks are required by law.
In February 2013, identical bills aimed at reducing employment discrimination against individuals with criminal histories were introduced in the New Jersey Senate (S2586) and the New Jersey Assembly (A3837). Both bills propose the adoption of the Opportunity to Compete Act (the “Act”) which would impose multiple restrictions and requirements on employers in connection with seeking and using criminal background information about job applicants. If the Act is adopted, New Jersey will join a growing list of states, cities, and localities which have passed similar anti-discrimination legislation.
Seven members of Congress wrote a letter last month to Equifax asking for more information about its employment verification subsidiary, The Work Number, which according to a statement made by Jackie Speier (D-California), “appears to have operated under the radar, with little public awareness of the vast trove of [payroll and other] sensitive data it was gathering.” Speier asserted that “Equifax needs to explain exactly how it is using this data, and provide evidence that The Work Number does not pose a threat to the privacy of 190 million Americans.”
While companies say that they sign up with The Work Number because it gives them a convenient way to outsource employment verifications, the seven members of Congress are disturbed by the fact that “… this massive database appears to generate revenue using consumers’ sensitive personal information for profit.”
On March 8, 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (the “USCIS”) announced that its newly revised Form I-9 is to be used immediately. Notably, as indicated in the Federal Register, the USCIS granted companies until May 7, 2013 to implement the new form, which purportedly has been designed to minimize completion errors. This 60-day grace period allows employers time to adjust their human resource processes, and modify their software. The USCIS has also updated its “Handbook for Employers – Guidance for Completing the Form I-9” (3.8.13 version) to correspond to the new form, and is holding webinars to educate companies in the form’s usage.
The USCIS noted that employers do not need to complete the new form for employees for whom they already have a proper Form I–9 on file, unless re-verification applies. Unnecessary verification may violate the anti-discrimination provision of section 274B of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1324b, which is enforced by the DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices.
Effective January 1, 2011, the Act will prohibit employers, in many circumstances, from inquiring about or using an employee’s or prospective employee’s credit history as a basis for employment, recruitment, discharge, or compensation. The Act also will prohibit an employer from retaliating or discriminating against a person who files a complaint under the Act, participates in an investigation, proceeding or action concerning a violation of the Act, or opposes violation of the Act. Pursuant to the Act, an employer will not:
- Fail or refuse to hire or recruit, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, term, condition, or privilege of employment because of the individual’s credit history or credit report.
- Inquire about an applicant’s or employee’s credit history.
- Order or obtain an applicant’s or employee’s credit report from a consumer reporting agency.
Exceptions to the Act are as follows:
- State or federal law requires bonding or other security covering the individual holding the position.
- Duties of the position include custody of or unsupervised access to cash or marketable assets valued at $2,500 or more.
- Duties of the position include signatory power over business assets of over $100 or more per transaction.
- Position is managerial, and involves setting the direction or control of the business.
- Position involves access to personal or confidential information, financial information, trade secrets, or state or federal national security information.
The Act also states that nothing in its provisions shall prohibit employers from conducting a thorough background investigation which may include obtaining a consumer report and/or investigative report without information on credit history, as permitted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
Section 525 of the Bankruptcy Code provides two slightly different standards for government applicants and employees, and for private employers. The bankruptcy discrimination statute for government employees [s.525(a)] states that:
[The government] may not…deny employment to, terminate the employment of, or discriminate with respect to employment against, a person that is or has been a debtor under this title or a bankrupt or a debtor under the Bankruptcy Act, or another person with whom such bankrupt or debtor has been associated, solely because such bankrupt or debtor is or has been a debtor under this title or a bankrupt or debtor under the Bankruptcy Act, has been insolvent before the commencement of the case under this title, or during the case but before the debtor is granted or denied a discharge, or has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in the case under this title or that was discharged under the Bankruptcy Act.
Section [s.525(b)] applies to private employers, and states that:
No private employer may terminate the employment of, or discriminate with respect to employment against, an individual who is or has been a debtor under this title, a debtor or bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act, or an individual associated with such debtor or bankrupt, solely because such debtor or bankrupt (1) is or has been a debtor under this title or a debtor or bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act; (2) has been insolvent before the commencement of a case under this title or during the case but before the grant or denial of a discharge; or (3) has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in a case under this title or that was discharged under the Bankruptcy Act.