Province of Ontario passes the Police Record Checks Reform Act

On December 1, 2015, Ontario passed the Police Record Checks Reform Act, 2015 (the “Act”) which has significant implications regarding criminal record checks. The Act establishes comprehensive standards governing the type of information that can be disclosed by police in response to record check inquiries, and is intended to remove unnecessary barriers to employment, licensing, holding office, applying to educational programs and participating in volunteer activities. Its main objective is to prevent the inappropriate disclosure of non-conviction and non-criminal records, such as information obtained from street checks or “carding,” as well as mental health information.  

Possibly the most significant requirement under the Act is that the individual must review the requested information and then consent to its disclosure. In the event that potentially inappropriate non-conviction information is included in a record, the Act provides that the individual may request a reconsideration of the disclosure. As a result, employers who conduct employment criminal record checks will now only be able to obtain the results if the applicant/employee has consented to the disclosure. 

December 22nd, 2015|Legislation|

Employers in New Jersey may face tougher restrictions for employment credit checks

Assembly Bill A2298 which prohibits employment discrimination against a current or prospective employee based on information in a credit report advanced to a second reading on December 14, 2015. The proposed legislation prohibits an employer from requiring a credit check on a current or prospective employee, unless the employer is required to do so by law, or reasonably believes that an employee has engaged in a specific activity that is financial in nature and constitutes a violation of law.  The bill does not prevent an employer from performing a credit inquiry or taking action if credit history is a bona fide occupational qualification of a particular position or certain employment classifications. An earlier version of the legislation passed the Senate in May 2012 in a 22-16 vote but was never voted on in the full Assembly.

December 22nd, 2015|Employment Decisions, Legislation|

Portland’s new ban-the-box law goes beyond Oregon’s version

Effective July 1, 2016, covered Portland businesses will be prohibited from asking job applicants about their criminal history or accessing such records until after a conditional offer has been extended. The city’s legislation goes beyond the state’s law, which beginning January 1, 2016, prohibits Oregon businesses, unless exempted, from including criminal history questions during the preliminary hiring stages, but allows the inquiries during the interview process.

Just as with Oregon’s ban-the-box law, businesses within the city of Portland are excluded from coverage when hiring for certain positions, which include law enforcement, criminal justice, and working with children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and other groups considered vulnerable.

December 22nd, 2015|Legislation|

Philadelphia expands its ban-the-box ordinance

On December 15, 2015, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed Bill 150815 expanding the city’s ban-the-box legislation. The new ordinance, which goes into effect on or about March 14, 2016, amends Chapter 9-3500 of the Philadelphia Code entitled “Fair Criminal Records Screening Standards,” by modifying certain definitions and adding additional requirements regarding the screening of job and license applicants for criminal history. With limited exceptions, the new ordinance applies to employers having any employees within the city of Philadelphia. (The prior ordinance covered employers with 10 or more employees.)  The highlights of the law include:

  • questions about criminal records must be removed from the job application–the ordinance specifically notes that multi-state applications may not include the question with a disclaimer for Philadelphia applicants not to answer;
  • employment materials cannot contain questions or refer to  the applicant’s willingness to submit to a background check before a conditional offer has been extended;
  • criminal record inquiries must be postponed until after a conditional offer has been made;
  • notice of the background check must state that any consideration of the results will be tailored to the job;
  • employment decisions can only include a conviction that occurred less than seven years ago–employers may add to the seven year period any time of actual incarceration served because of the offense;
  • screening process must include individualized assessment for each applicant;
  • if the applicant is rejected based on a criminal conviction, he/she must be advised of the specific reason and provided with a copy of the record.
December 22nd, 2015|Educational Series, Employment Decisions|

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|

New US-EU Safe Harbor agreement may be around the corner

Various sources report that US and EU representatives met on December 17, 2015 to hash out an agreement that would replace the recently invalidated Safe Harbor privacy framework. The two governments aim to have a replacement framework in place by January, says EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová. One of the main goals of the new program is to allow EU citizens’ grievances to be filed directly with their national privacy regulator.

As reported in our client alert and blogs, in October 2015, judges from the European Court of Justice issued a judgment striking down a 15-year old agreement, known as the Safe Harbor framework, which allowed US and European organizations to freely move personal data between the two regions as long as the US ensured an adequate level of data protection at the company and certified that it would abide by the seven EU data privacy principles regarding notice, choice, onward transfer, security, data integrity, access, and enforcement.  The invalidation ruling impacted nearly 4,000 businesses that relied on the Safe Harbor framework to transfer data between the US and Europe and requires all businesses to revaluate their compliance with European data privacy and security standards.

December 22nd, 2015|European Union, Legislation|

Importance of background checks in employment decisions

Performing a background check as part of the hiring process, promotion, or retention in today’s world is essential. Stakeholders expect it. Regulators mandate it.

In a turbulent economy, the pool of job candidates is greater than ever and misrepresentations abound. For many firms, once an offer of employment has been extended, it is common practice to check the candidate’s background. Depending on the risk level of the position and its requirements, background checks can run the gamut from reference calls done internally, to using a consumer reporting agency to perform comprehensive searches to determine the existence of potentially negative information, such as criminal matters, civil litigation, bankruptcy filings, tax liens, judgments, regulatory actions, driving violations, and adverse media publicity, and to verify academic, licensing, employment and other professional qualifications and claims.

The law is clear–an employer who hires or retains a dangerous or incompetent employee can be held liable for that employee’s wrongful acts, if committed in the course and scope of his or her employment. The theories of negligent hiring and retention go even further–someone who is injured by an employee can sue the employer even if the employee’s conduct is outside of the employer’s control. For instance, one court found the owner of an apartment complex liable for a handyman’s assault of a tenant after working hours. The liability existed because the owner failed to screen the handyman’s background, which included a long list of violent crimes.

Underpinning the negligent hiring and retention theories is the negligence of the employer—that is, the employer knew or should have known the employee was unfit for the job, posed an unreasonable risk of harm to others, and did nothing about it. Virtually every state recognizes these theories as causes of action, or if not, has a similar legal theory. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of negligent hiring and retention liability is to perform adequate background checks as part of the hiring process and in connection with promotions or retention.

A well-designed background screening program that is compliant with applicable laws and regulations makes good business sense, as an individual’s prior history is often a predictor of future performance, workplace behavior and cultural fit. Various studies have shown that the cost of a bad hire is one to five times the salary of the job in question, considering the direct and indirect cost involved in recruiting, hiring, training, development, administration, management, and potential litigation, as well as the wasted wages and benefits. Comprehensive background screening can help identify individuals who may have a propensity for violence, theft, fraud, dishonesty, substance abuse, absenteeism, and other misconduct, and at the same time, find the candidates that can make the employer more successful.

Many employers are also required by government regulation, their insurance carriers, and/or their clients to conduct background checks. A comprehensive background check is clearly worth the investment. Employers never want to say “we should have known,” as an uninformed employment decision can result in significant financial losses and quickly tarnish an employer’s reputation.

November 5th, 2015|Educational Series, Employment Decisions|

Oregon bans the box

Oregon became the eighth state to ban the box after the state legislature passed House Bill 3025 and Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law on June 26.

Beginning January 1, 2016, employers in the state may not require an applicant to disclose a criminal conviction on an employment application or at any time prior to an initial interview. If no interview takes place, disclosure may not be mandated prior to a conditional offer of employment. That means employers are only permitted to ask about criminal convictions during an interview or after it occurs.

Employers must notify an applicant that they will be subject to a criminal background check or required to disclose any convictions but “nothing in [the law] prevents an employer from considering an applicant’s conviction history when making a hiring decision” as long as the employer times the questions in compliance with the statute.

HB 3025 applies to all employers in the state with just four exceptions. Law enforcement agencies, employers in the criminal justice system, and employers seeking “a nonemployee volunteer” are all exempt. Positions where federal, state, or local law requires consideration of an applicant’s criminal history are also not covered by the statute.

Tasked with enforcement: the Oregon Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. The law did not create a private right of action allowing individuals to file suit. Importantly for employers in the state, the legislature elected not to preempt municipalities from enacting their own stricter version of the law. For example, the Portland City Council is currently considering its own take on a “ban the box” law that would apply to employers in the city.

Oregon’s passage of the measure adds the state to the fast growing list of jurisdictions to ban the box. There are over 100 cities and counties, and 18 states representing nearly every region of the country that have adopted the policies — California (2013, 2010), Colorado (2012), Connecticut (2010), Delaware (2014), Georgia (2015), Hawaii (1998), Illinois (2014, 2013), Maryland (2013), Massachusetts (2010), Minnesota (2013, 2009), Nebraska (2014), New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010), Ohio (2015), Oregon (2015), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2015), and Virginia (2015). Six states—Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—have removed the conviction history question on job applications for private employers, which advocates embrace as the next step in the evolution of these policies.

Federally, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) endorsed removing the conviction question from the job application as a best practice in its 2012 guidance making clear that federal civil rights laws regulate employment decisions based on arrests and convictions.

Employers should keep a close eye on their local authorities to ensure continuing compliance as the list of jurisdictions continues to grow.

Read House Bill 3025.

 

September 23rd, 2015|Employment Decisions|

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|

California’s marijuana laws present challenges for employers

Even for those not partaking in marijuana, the various California laws regulating its use can be confusing – particularly for employers.

The trend in state legislatures to permit the recreational and/or medicinal use of marijuana began with California’s Compassionate Use Act in 1996, which allowed state residents to use the drug for medical purposes and decriminalized possession of less than 28 grams. Complicating the matter, however: marijuana use remains prohibited by federal law.

With limited use of marijuana legal in the state, how can employers find out about a worker’s use of the drug or limit it without running afoul of state law?

Employers have two options, either try to get their hands on historical information, such as criminal convictions, or seek out current input via drug testing.

Criminal history related to drugs in many instances is off-limits for employers. Job applicants cannot be required to disclose an arrest that did not result in a conviction or participation in a pretrial or post-trial diversion program. Any criminal history that has been expunged, sealed, or dismissed will be unavailable as are marijuana-related convictions dating back more than two years.

While California has not banned the box for private employers, local jurisdictions such as San Francisco have, requiring employers to wait until after a live interview or determining that an applicant meets the qualifications for the position before inquiring into criminal history. Background checks – whether performed in-house or by a third party – require compliance with federal law (the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA) as well as California’s counterpart, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (although the legality of the state statute is unclear, see story below for more detail). And such investigations into applicants’ history are a current target for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – which has filed multiple lawsuits (http://www.scherzer.com/eeoc-loses-again-in-challenge-to-background-checks/) against employers alleging their background checks constitute disparate impact discrimination against protected groups like African-Americans – and a popular basis for class actions. Recent cases have settled with multi-million awards, including a $2.5 million payout by Domino’s Pizza and a $6.8 million deal between Publix Super Markets and a class of applicants alleging the company violated the FCRA.

Drug tests can be viable option for employers. Once a job offer has been made, an employer may require an applicant to pass a drug test as a condition of employment (as long as all potential employees are subject to the same requirement). After a worker has been hired, drug tests may be used if an employer has a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence. Certain jobs – such as those in the transportation industry like truck drivers – may permit such testing more freely. If a test comes back positive, employers do have the discretion to discipline, terminate, or choose not to hire an applicant even if the individual legally holds a medical marijuana card issued by the state. In addition, despite the requirements under the Americans With Disabilities Act and California state law to provide reasonable accommodations to employees considered disabled, neither federal nor state law requires employers to permit marijuana use as such an accommodation.

September 23rd, 2015|Criminal Activity, Employment Decisions|