Additional Guidance and Forms Issued for City of Los Angeles’ Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance

As reported in our previous alert, effective January 22, 2017, the Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring (“LAFCIH”) ordinance prohibits employers (with 10 or more employees) from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional job offer has been extended and imposes significant compliance obligations. The Department of Public Works Bureau of Contract Administration (the “BCA” or the “Department”), which bears administrative responsibilities for the LAFCIH, in addition to its rules and regulations published In February, has now provided forms and further guidance to help covered employers (and city contractors/subcontractors) meet their compliance requirements.

The forms and guidance include the following:

It is recommended that all covered employers and city contractors/subcontractors review the materials provided by the BCA.  Penalties and fines for violations of the LAFCIH will be imposed starting July 1, 2017.

February 10th, 2017|Employment Decisions, FCRA, Legislation, Privacy, Risk Management|

New Guidance Regarding City of Los Angeles’ Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance

 

 

What is this about:

As reported in our previous alert, effective January 22, 2017, the Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring (“LAFCIH”) ordinance prohibits employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until a conditional job offer has been extended and imposes significant compliance obligations.

The Department of Public Works Bureau of Contract Administration, which bears administrative responsibilities for the LAFCIH, in addition to its rules and regulations (the “Regs”) to guide covered employers (and city contractors/subcontractors) in meeting compliance requirements published last month, has now posted an “individualized assessment and reassessment form.” It is unclear whether the Department expects employers to use this form as provided or whether modifications are permitted. Certain other items in the Regs also remain unclear, and the Department has yet to issue anticipated further guidance.

 

Notable amplifications and clarifications:

  1. “Applicant” means an individual who submits an application or other documentation for employment to an employer regardless of location.
  2. “Employee” means any individual who performs at least two hours of work on average each week within the geographic boundaries of the City for an employer. Average week is determined by the last four complete weeks before the position is advertised
  3. An individual who lives in the City and performs work for an employer from home, including telecommuting, is an employee.
  4. An individual who works from a home that is outside of the City is not an employee even if he/she works for a Los Angeles-based company, unless the individual also works at least two hours on average per week within the geographic boundaries of the City.
  5. The LAFCIH applies to employees regardless of an employer’s designation of an employee as an independent contractor, and labeling a worker as an independent contractor is not conclusive for the purpose of the LAFCIH.
 

Criminal history:

According to the Regs,

“A conviction shall include a plea, verdict, or finding of guilt regardless of whether sentence is imposed by the court. In the State of California, an employer is prohibited from asking about any arrest information, unless it results in a conviction, and otherwise specified.”

Note: the definition above cites California Labor Code §432.7(a)(1). The first sentence is correct; however, the second sentence is not, as that statute expressly allows inquiries about pending cases,stating that “nothing [in this section] shall prevent an employer from asking… about an arrest for which the employee or applicant is out on bail or on his or her own recognizance pending trial.”

Nevertheless, the Regs, in a section titled “Employer Assessment of Criminal History,” go on to state that “arrests cannot be considered in employment decisions.”

 

Other guidance items:

The Regs amplify other definitions and aim to explain the various employer requirements. This includes, but is not limited to: the application and interview procedure, assessment of criminal history, the “Fair Chance” process, notice and posting, record-keeping, enforcement and exceptions.

See above the above post for links regarding this new guidance.

February 9th, 2017|Employment Decisions, FCRA, Legislation, Privacy, Risk Management|

New Employment Background Screening Legislation for 2017

“Ban-the-box”

“Ban-the-box” measures, which generally prohibit employers from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history (including performing background checks) until later in the hiring process, and impose significant compliance requirements, will soon be the norm rather than an exception. The city of Los Angeles, with its new Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring ordinance, is just the latest to join the fast growing list of localities (Austin, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Columbia – MO, District of Columbia, Montgomery County – MD, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Prince George’s County – MD, Rochester, San Francisco, and Seattle) and nine states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont (effective July 1, 2017)) that have enacted similar laws  for private employers.

Juvenile criminal record checks   

Effective January 1, 2017, AB 1843 amends Section 432.7 of the Labor Code to prohibit California employers from inquiring about and considering information regarding “an arrest, detention, process, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition” that occurred while the candidate was subject to the process and jurisdiction of a juvenile court. Certain employment situations are exempted from these requirements, such as a prohibition by law from hiring an applicant who has been convicted of a crime.

Criminal background checks for transportation network companies

Effective January 1, 2017, under California’s AB 1289, a transportation network company (“TNC”) such as Uber, is required to perform criminal background checks on all drivers. The bill also prohibits a TNC from contracting with a driver who is registered on the DOJ’s national sex offender website or has been convicted of specified felonies, or misdemeanor assault or battery, domestic violence, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within the past seven years.

Credit check restrictions

The District of Columbia is the latest jurisdiction to pass a law that prohibits private employers, with certain exceptions, from conducting credit checks on job applicants. The Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act, which amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to include credit information as a protected trait will take effect following approval by Mayor Bowser and other enactment actions. Similar to the laws already in effect in ten states for private employers (California – AB 22; Colorado – The Employment Opportunity Act; Connecticut  – SB 361; Hawaii – HB 31 SD1; Illinois  – HB 4658; Maryland  HB 87;  Nevada – SB 127; Oregon – SB 1045; Vermont – Act No. 154 (S. 95); Washington – RCW 19.182 and  RCW 19.182.020) and at least two cities (New York City – Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act and Philadelphia – Bill No. 160072), it restricts checking an applicant’s credit history except in circumstances where a credit screen is justified by the position’s responsibilities or is required by law.

Wage history inquiries

Pay equity initiatives include California’s AB 1676, which effective January 1, 2017, prohibits employers from using a candidate’s prior salary as the sole basis to justify a pay disparity. California, however, has decided not to follow the Massachusetts provisions (described below) of banning inquiries regarding a candidate’s wage history.

Massachusetts was the first jurisdiction to pass a law that prevents employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. The commonwealth’s Pay Equity Act goes into effect July 1, 2018, and in addition to equal pay requirements, it makes it illegal, among other things, to: (1) require that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about his or her wages, or any other employee’s wages; (2) screen job applicants based on their wages; (3) request or require a candidate to disclose prior wages or salary history; or (4) seek the salary history from a current or former employer, unless he/she provides express written consent, and an offer of employment, including proposed compensation, has been extended.

Effective May 23, 2017, the city of Philadelphia with its Fair Practices Ordinance: Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination will make it unlawful for employers to inquire about a candidate’s wage history during the hiring process, unless a federal, state, or local law specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of wage information.

Drug testing – marijuana

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS), 31 states/jurisdictions (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) have public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, while several states (Alaska – Ballot Measure No. 2; California – Proposition 64; Colorado – Amendment 64; District of Columbia – Initiative 71; Maine – Question 1; Massachusetts  – Question 4;  Nevada – Question 2; Oregon – Measure 91; and Washington Initiative 502) have passed laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana by adults.  Since the legal landscape for marijuana use is changing rapidly, employers should review and update their substance abuse policies, including drug-testing. Notably, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Work authorization verification

California’s SB 1001 is a revival of the 2015  AB 1065, which effective January 1, 2017, makes it unlawful for employers to:

  1. Request additional or different documents than those required under federal law to verify that an individual is not an unauthorized immigrant
  2. Refuse to accept documents provided by the applicant that reasonably appear to be genuine
  3. Refuse to honor documents or work authorization based on specific status or term that accompanies the authorization to work
  4. Attempt to reinvestigate or re-verify a candidate’s authorization to work using an unfair immigration-related practice.

Effective January 1, 2017, Tennessee’s SB 1965 requires that companies with 50 or more employees use the federal E-Verify program to confirm new employees’ work authorization.

As a reminder, starting January 22, 2017, all employers must use the new Form I-9, which is dated November 14, 2016 (the edition date is on the bottom of the form).  Employers that fail to use the new form may be subject to civil penalties.

January 2nd, 2017|Employment Decisions, FCRA, Legislation, Risk Management|

Phony job applicants targeting employers to collect on FCRA violations

As we reported throughout the year, class-actions brought against employers under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) alleging hyper-technical violations are proliferating, with several resulting in multi-million dollar settlements.

But there appears to be a new development in this area. According to a National Law Review article, phony job applicants who have no intention of being employed with the targeted companies are submitting employment applications solely to position themselves as plaintiffs in class action litigation and potentially get a windfall settlement. The National Law Review article reports that the fake applicants typically fill out an online job application (usually with companies that have nationwide operations), sign the background check authorization, and then, after receiving an offer or rejection letter send a demand letter stating that the employer’s background check disclosure form or process does not comply with the requirements imposed by the FCRA and demand huge payouts to settle their claims  and avoid the filing of a class action lawsuit.

The FCRA provides for statutory damages ranging from $100 to $1,000 per violation for non-compliance with the FCRA’s notice and disclosure requirements, even where the plaintiff has suffered no actual harm or damag

December 22nd, 2015|FCRA, Lawsuit|

Mini FCRA update: Georgia enacts new law, California law mired in uncertainty

Enacted in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides federal regulation of consumer reporting agencies that provide consumer reports to third parties.

In the 45 years since the FCRA took effect, several states have passed their own version of the statute to provide additional protections for consumers. Colloquially referred to as “mini” FCRAs, the laws can be found in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Joining the group: Georgia, where House Bill 328 took effect on July 1. The new law applies to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that “conduct business” within the state, defined as those entities that “provide information to any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or any other group however organized that is domiciled within this state or whose principal place of business” is located within Georgia’s borders.

A CRA encompasses any person or entity “which, for monetary fees or dues or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties.”

For its part, a consumer report broadly includes “any written, oral, or other communication of any information bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for purposes of credit, insurance, or employment.”

As it closely tracks the federal FCRA, Georgia’s law provides that a CRA that furnishes consumer reports for employment purposes in compliance with the federal statute will be in compliance with the state version.

While Georgia’s new law already took effect, other states have struggled with application of their mini FCRAs.

For example, in 2013, a federal court judge California ruled that one of the state’s two FCRA corrollaries, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA), was unconstitutionally vague in Roe v. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc. The case involved an anonymous plaintiff who sued when she failed to obtain employment.  She argued she didn’t get the job as a result of an allegedly inaccurate background check furnished by the defendant to her prospective employer in violation of both the FCRA and the ICRAA.

The defendant argued that the ICRAA was unconstitutionally vague as applied and the court agreed. In addition to the FCRA and the ICRAA, California had previously enacted the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA), a law that governs consumer credit checks. The interplay between the CCRAA and ICRAA resulted in confusion for covered entities, the court found, as criminal background information about consumers was regulated by both laws, leaving companies uncertain about which statute’s requirements actually applied.

Although the plaintiff appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate panel dismissed the appeal for procedural reasons; on remand, the federal district court later dismissed the case with prejudice in December 2013. However, the opinion in Roe remains valid law in the state, leaving a shadow of uncertainty hanging over the ICRAA.

Read Georgia’s House Bill 328.

Read Roe v. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc.

September 23rd, 2015|Employment Decisions, FCRA|

Florida court allows FCRA suit against Whole Foods to move forward

Reinforcing the importance of complying with even the most technical FCRA requirements, a federal court in Florida allowed a former employee to move forward with his suit against Whole Foods Market Group.

In the putative class action, the plaintiff, who was terminated in June 2013 after the employer conducted a background check on plaintiff and other existing employees, charges that Whole Foods violated the FCRA, and specifically, points to the forms the plaintiff signed when he applied for employment. A “Disclosure Statement” provided: “By this document [Whole Foods] discloses to you that a consumer report regarding your credit history, criminal history and other background information and/or an investigative consumer report containing information as to your character, general reputation, personal characteristics and/or mode of living may be obtained from personal interviews or other sources in connection with your application for any purpose at any time during your employment.”

The plaintiff was also given a “Consent and Release of Information” form, which stated: “I further understand and authorize [Whole Foods] or those authorized by them to procure a consumer report on me as part of a process of consideration as an employee … I release all parties from liability for any damages which may result from the disclosure of any information outlined herein.”

Although Whole Foods intended for the Disclosure Statement to satisfy Section 1681(b)(2)(A)(i) of the FCRA and each form was a separate single page document, the simultaneous presentation of the consent form rendered the disclosure meaningless, the plaintiff argued. Whole Foods knew that it was required to provide a stand-alone form, the plaintiff added, citing FCRA-related articles posted online by the third-party the company used to run the background checks.

The court agreed. “Based on the allegations, with all inferences drawn in favor of plaintiff, if both the disclosure and the consent forms combined and read as one document with the waiver and release included simultaneously with the disclosure, the complaint states a claim for relief,” the judge said, denying Whole Foods’ motion to dismiss the suit. The court also allowed the plaintiff’s contention that Whole Foods “willfully” violated the FCRA to move forward. Under the statute, reckless and knowing violations constitute willful violations, the court noted, and the plaintiff presented sufficient allegations that the defendant knew it was required to provide a stand-alone form separate from the employment application and yet failed to do so.

“The allegations that defendant had access to legal advice and guidance from the FTC yet it knew that its conduct was inconsistent with that guidance and the plain terms of the statute, are sufficient to withstand attack at this stage of the proceedings on a motion to dismiss,” the judge wrote.

The decision provides an important reminder to employers that class actions alleging technical violations of the FCRA, particularly Section 1681(b)(2)(A)(i), remain popular with plaintiffs with statutory damages from $100 to $1,000 for a willful violation available.

Whole Foods is facing an identical suit in California federal court while other companies have settled similar cases for significant amounts, such as the recent deal Publix Super Markets struck with a class in Tennessee federal court for $6.8 million, a $2.5 million payout by Domino’s Pizza, and a settlement agreement for $3 million between grocery chain Food Lion and job applicants.

Read the court order here.

June 12th, 2015|Employment Decisions, FCRA, Judgment|

U.S. Supreme Court case offers window into CFPB’s position on the FCRA

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a closely followed case involving the Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”) that will have great significance on privacy law. In connection with this case, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) offered a glimpse of its stance on the FCRA in an amicus brief recently filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2012, the Bureau took over the enforcement reins of the FCRA from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Since then, the industry has watched for signs on how the Bureau would tackle its new job, with few clues. But in an amicus brief filed jointly with the Solicitor General in Spokeo v. Robins, the CFPB weighed in, taking a consumer-friendly position on the statute.

The dispute began when Robins claimed that Spokeo ran afoul of the FCRA. The spokeo.com site allows users to obtain information about other individuals like address, phone number, employment information, and economic data such as mortgage value and investments. Robins sued after finding incorrect information about himself on the site, alleging that Spokeo was a consumer reporting agency (CRA) under the FCRA and sold “consumer reports” but failed to comply with the various statutory requirements by neglecting to assure the maximum possible accuracy of the information reported on its site and failing to provide notice of statutory responsibilities to purchasers of its reports.

Relying on Section 1681n of the FCRA, which grants consumers a cause of action against an entity that negligently or willfully violates “any requirement imposed [under the FCRA] with respect to [that] consumer,” Robins filed a putative class action. A federal district court dismissed the suit for a lack of standing but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The federal appellate panel held that Robins sufficiently alleged an injury in fact because Congress created a right of action to enforce a statutory provision, demonstrating intent to create a statutory right.

Spokeo petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case. The CFPB filed the amicus brief, siding with the plaintiff and arguing that the justices should deny the writ of certiorari. The Bureau argued to the Court that the statutorily created cause of action found in the FCRA satisfied the injury required for Article III standing. While recognizing that Congress does not have unlimited power to define the class of plaintiffs who may sue in federal court, the CFPB said the legislature “may grant individuals statutory rights that, when violated, confer standing, and the clear language of the FCRA did just that.”

“FCRA thus grants an individual consumer a statutory entitlement to be free from a CRA’s actual dissemination of inaccurate information about him when the CRA fails to employ ‘reasonable procedures’ to assure the information’s accuracy,” according to the CFPB’s brief. A CRA’s willful failure to follow reasonable procedures to ensure that an accurate report about a consumer is disseminated violates a ‘requirement imposed under [FCRA] with respect to [that] consumer.’ It is also a concrete and particularized injury to the consumer because it involves the actual, specific, and non-abstract act of disseminating information about the particular consumer.” This reading – recognizing a legally protected interest in consumer privacy – “is particularly salient in modern-day society given the proliferation of large databases and the ease and rapidity with which information about individuals can be transmitted and retransmitted across the Internet,” the CFPB added, as “public dissemination of inaccurate personal information about the plaintiff is a form of ‘concrete harm’ that courts have traditionally acted to redress, whether or not the plaintiff can prove some further consequential injury.”

Read the CFPB’s amicus brief in Spokeo v. Robins here.

Read the opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here.

 

June 12th, 2015|FCRA, Judgment|

Do you know about specialty consumer reports?

Credit reports are a part of life, whether applying for a credit card or purchasing a home. But what about specialty consumer reports?

Many people are unaware that dozens of other types of consumer reports exist, filled with information about medical and prescription history, for example, or insurance claims. Specialty consumer reports gather data from a wide variety of sources including information provided by consumers on applications (such as an apartment lease or a wireless phone contract) as well as public documents like criminal records and marriage licenses.

The reports provide information geared for a specific industry. A truck driving company might purchase reports that detail a job applicant’s driving record and motor vehicle insurance claims while an insurer will review a report with claims filed by a homeowner to check an individual’s historic use of insurance policies. Other niche reports provide data on loan balances, information about any bounced checks, and bank account history for lenders; another company tracks consumers’ product returns and will alert large retailers for fraud prevention purposes.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (the “FCRA”) entitles consumers to one free report per year from any nationwide credit or specialty reporting agency (plus another free report if an adverse action has been taken, or the consumer disputes an item in the report that was corrected).

Recently, consumer rights group Consumer Action focused on the issue of specialty consumer reports in an “Insider’s Guide to Specialty Consumer Reports: A Guide to Obtaining, Understanding and Managing Your Information,” complete with a directory of furnishers. Staffers went through the process of requesting their own reports to help provide information for consumers about the types of reports available and their rights to request reports or correct errors.

Access the Consumer Action guide.

Read the directory of specialty consumer report furnishers.

May 8th, 2015|FCRA, Fraud|