Utilizing the EEOC's Uniform Guidelines to Make Employment Decisions Based Upon a Conviction

Vincent Peter White

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The EEOC provides 3 approaches to checking the validity of an employment screen for convictions:

Before we get into these approaches however, it may be useful to note that the EEOC admits: "that “[t]here are circumstances in which a user cannot or need not utilize" formal validation techniques and that in such circumstances an employer “should utilize selection procedures which are as job related as possible and which will minimize or eliminate adverse impact as set forth.."

The Green Factors

The Green Factors provide the starting point for analyzing how specific criminal conduct may be linked to particular positions. The three Green factors are:

  • The nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;
  • The time that has passed since the offense, conduct and/or completion of the sentence; and
  • The nature of the job held or sought.

The EEOC goes on to provide examples of Employer Actions that do not conform to a proper use of the Green Factors:

"Exclusion Is Not Job Related and Consistent with Business Necessity. The National Equipment Rental Company uses the Internet to accept job applications for all positions. All applicants must answer certain questions before they are permitted to submit their online application, including “have you ever been convicted of a crime?" If the applicant answers “yes," the online application process automatically terminates, and the applicant sees a screen that simply says “Thank you for your interest. We cannot continue to process your application at this time.

The Company does not have a record of the reasons why it adopted this exclusion, and it does not have information to show that convictions for all offenses render all applicants unacceptable risks in all of its jobs, which range from warehouse work, to delivery, to management positions. If a Title VII charge were filed based on these facts, and there was a disparate impact on a Title VII-protected basis, the EEOC would find reasonable cause to believe that the blanket exclusion was not job related and consistent with business necessity because the risks associated with all convictions are not pertinent to all of the Company’s jobs."

and

"Leo, an African American man, has worked successfully at PR Agency as an account executive for three years. After a change of ownership, the new owners adopt a policy under which it will not employ anyone with a conviction. The policy does not allow for any individualized assessment before exclusion. The new owners, who are highly respected in the industry, pride themselves on employing only the “best of the best" for every position. The owners assert that a quality workforce is a key driver of profitability.

Twenty years earlier, as a teenager, Leo pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. During the intervening twenty years, Leo graduated from college and worked successfully in advertising and public relations without further contact with the criminal justice system. At PR Agency, all of Leo’s supervisors assessed him as a talented, reliable, and trustworthy employee, and he has never posed a risk to people or property at work. However, once the new ownership of PR Agency learns about Leo’s conviction record through a background check, it terminates his employment. It refuses to reconsider its decision despite Leo’s positive employment history at PR Agency.

Leo files a Title VII charge alleging that PR Agency’s conviction policy has a disparate impact based on race and is not job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity. After confirming disparate impact, the EEOC considers PR Agency’s defense that it employs only the “best of the best" for every position, and that this necessitates excluding everyone with a conviction. PR Agency does not show that all convictions are indicative of risk or danger in all its jobs for all time, under the Green factors. Nor does PR Agency provide any factual support for its assertion that having a conviction is necessarily indicative of poor work or a lack of professionalism. The EEOC concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Agency’s policy is not job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."

Additional Resources

White, Rose and Marks, L.L.C.

EEOC Enforcement Guidance

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