New York City has joined the growing list of employers placing limits on credit checks. On April 16, the City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill prohibiting the use of credit checks in most employment situations. Mayor Bill De Blasio signed the legislation on May 6, amending the city’s Human Rights Law to make the use of credit history for hiring and other employment purposes, with certain exceptions, an unlawful discriminatory practice. Set to take effect on September 3, 2015, the law will have a sizable impact on employers in New York City. A review of current policies and procedures to determine if any exceptions apply is key, while employers with a statewide presence should consider whether to continue credit checks in other locations where they remain legal.
As defined by the law, “consumer credit history” means an individual’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, or payment history, as indicated by: (a) a consumer credit report; (b) credit score; or (c) information an employer obtains directly from the individual regarding (1) details about credit accounts, including the individual’s number of credit accounts, late or missed payments, charged-off debts, items in collections, credit limit, prior credit report inquiries, or (2) bankruptcies, judgments or liens. The law further provides that “a consumer credit report shall include any written or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency that bears on a consumer’s creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity or credit history.”
Importantly, employers are prohibited not just from the request or use of credit history for applicants, but also from using credit history as a factor in employment decisions for current employees in “compensation, or the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”
When initially introduced, the proposal featured no exceptions to the ban on credit checks. But over the course of the past year, limited exceptions were added to the bill. As enacted, the legislation permits the use of credit checks for prospective employees of broker-dealers who must register with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) as well as for police officers and other public officials in a position involving a “high degree of public trust.” Additional exceptions allow a review of credit history when required by state or federal law or regulations; for positions when an employee must possess a security clearance or has “regular access” to intelligence or national security information; for non-clerical positions with access to “trade secrets;” for computer security positions when the employee’s duties include the ability to modify digital security systems; and for employees with signing authority over third-party funds or assets greater than $10,000 or fiduciary responsibility to an employer with the authority to enter into financial agreements of $10,000 or more.
The law permits individuals to file a complaint of discrimination with the New York City Commission on Human Rights within a one-year period or a complaint in court, with a three-year statute of limitations. Remedies include back pay, reinstatement, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs.
New York City joins 12 other jurisdictions that have prohibited credit checks in employment-related decisions, including the city of Chicago as well as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
Read the New York City legislation here.