Background checks are a critical part of hiring, but good employers understand that they are meant to be used responsibly. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission exists to ensure that discriminatory practices in employment are rooted out, providing guidelines for how information about potential and current employees can be used in a way that is fair and appropriate.
What is the EEOC?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that enforces rules regarding civil rights in employment settings. It was established in the 1960s, and investigates employment-related complaints based on rules such as the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
These acts (and others) prohibit discrimination in employment based on particular qualities or classes of people that have protection under these laws.
What are protected classes?
As of right now, the list of protected classes includes:
- Race and color
- Sex (including pregnancy)
- National origin
- Age (if over 40 years old)
- Medical history and genetic information
What does this mean for hiring and background checks?
There are many misconceptions about protected classes, background checks, and the EEOC. It does not mean that you must hire, promote, or retain an employee who has revealed that they are a member of a protected class. It does mean that you can’t use this information as the basis for failing to hire, promote, or retain them.
For example, if you run background checks on all job applicants for money-handling positions and one foreign-born applicant is rejected due to a low credit score, this is acceptable. If you only run background checks on certain applicants based on their national origin, this is a discriminatory hiring practice.
Keep in mind that some requirements, even if universally applied, may be discriminatory if they primarily impact a protected class of people. Rejecting an applicant based on gaps in employment history (despite the candidate being otherwise well-qualified) or for having filed for bankruptcy due to medical bills can be discriminatory based on disability or medical history, even if this rule is applied to all applicants across the board.
While there are no simplistic rules for avoiding discriminatory processes or the appearance of discrimination, looking at your requirements and whether they are actually necessary to fill the available role successfully will get you a lot of the way there.
After you’ve completed background checks, the EEOC requires that you hold onto this information for a year (or two years for educational organizations, state and local governments, and larger businesses with government contracts) and then dispose of the information securely.
Who must comply with EEOC rules?
This depends on the size of the business. Small businesses with at least one employee must comply with rules requiring equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.
If you have 15 employees, EEOC rules prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and genetic information all apply. If you have 20 or more employees, age discrimination against those over the age of 40 is also prohibited. States and localities may also have additional requirements.
There are a lot of regulations when you are hiring employees, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
That’s when it’s time to call a professional. Here in Payroll Country, we know business like nobody else. Get in touch, and we can talk about how Complete Payroll can help your business be effective while staying compliant.
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Also, check out our comprehensive resource page on employee background checks that consolidates all the information, blog posts and other resources about running background checks on employees and potential hires in one place.