Disparate Impact: The Effect of Background Checks On Minorities in the Workplace HRM 321-10 Employment Techniques: Fall 2013
November 19, 2013
Due to the current state of the economy, unemployment levels are at all-time highs and job scarcity is the norm. Employers are growing more selective during the hiring process to ensure that they hire ideal candidates to fill vacant positions. In order to aid this process, employers routinely conduct background checks on potential applicants. This procedure is supposed to help eliminate applicants that might be more susceptible to counterproductive behavior in the workplace however it is increasingly having a disparate impact on minority groups, especially African-Americans. Disparate impact relates to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral, but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups as defined by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM online, 2012). Employment policies that entail such adverse effects are in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a position that has been affirmed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the Supreme Court. Historically, background checks have been a common method used by employers in the hiring process. According to a report, Broken Records, published by the National Consumer Law Center, about ninety-three percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some applicants, while seventy-three percent of employers conduct checks on all applicants. Moreover, the report concludes that about one in four adults, an estimated sixty-five million people in the United States have a criminal record (Dietrich & Persis, 2012). The troubling aspect is that although these backgrounds checks are performed on every applicant, they are affecting minorities disparately because they have much higher rates of arrests due to a slew of underlying socioeconomic factors such as poverty rates and lower income levels. For example, African Americans account for twenty-eight percent of all arrests in the United States even though they make-up about twelve percent of the population, whereas the percentage of Whites who have been arrested falls significantly below their percentage of the population (Emsellem & Rodriguez, 2011). Despite the propensity for adverse effects on certain social groups, background checks are systematically intertwined into the hiring process. Primarily, because they are extremely helpful for employers to help understand the magnitude of the candidate’s qualifications and authenticity for the position offered. When performing a background check, companies are able to see a candidate’s credit rating, criminal records, work history and driving records. Companies send a release letter to a private government affiliated establishment that is able to process personal records of job applicants at a fee. These records are then pulled and authenticated according to one’s job application and interview questions. Once companies obtain this personal information, it can easily be exploited and categorized in a way that is deemed unlawful to the equality of job candidacy. Candidates can now be categorized by race, criminal records, and types of occupational history. This is problematic as some candidates become targets of discrimination according to previous non-work related attributes or incidents. A number of recent cases illustrate how the pervasive use of background checks in employer hiring practices target race and ethnicity as a prominent factor, and has become the standard throughout the job market. Factors that have driven this issue include immigration status, scandals involving matters such as child abuse and overall security concerns following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (Greenblatt, 2012). In an effort to combat this, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has created guidelines that sanction the...
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