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Credit Checks and Employment

Credit Checks and Employment

Since 2012, people suggests that the United States has come a long way in addressing centuries of discrimination. However, as the new century races toward the end of its first decade, a controversial practice has led many to question whether America is simply finding new ways to engage in discrimination. The practice in question is the increased use of credit checks as a condition of employment.

The idea of researching a potential employee is nothing new. It has always been part of the hiring process. In a world where not everyone is ‘honest’ or ‘qualified’, employers need to check into a potential employee’s background to ensure that the candidate is a good choice. An employer also needs to know if a candidate has the character traits needed for the position. It would be reckless, for example, for a bank to hire a convicted thief to work as a bank teller. None disputes background checks that focus on criminal records but what about checking into a person’s credit history?

It can be argued that, in some cases, a person’s credit history does matter when it comes to work. In certain jobs where the handling of money is involved, like the previously mentioned bank teller, a person with bad credit may have a greater incentive to steal. The problem is it doesn’t stop there. According to, more and more companies are including credit checks as a condition for employment even when the job in question does not involve monetary transactions.

Supporters of such checks claim they are used only to verify a person’s identity. They point to statistics that show the exploding rise in identity theft as a need to verify important information about a candidate. They also state that potential employees are not disqualified solely for bad credit. Critics, however, sing a different tune.

Critics say that in a world that is progressively more automated, how can anyone be sure that a qualified candidate wouldn’t be disqualified on the basis of bad credit? With so many job applications now being processed online, hundreds of resumes may be submitted for each available job. Employers therefore need quick and easy ways to filter out resumes. What’s to stop employers from using credit history as a filter? The tightness of the job market only adds to the problem since it gives employers more power in deciding which applications to keep and which applications to toss.

What really worries critics though is how bad credit can be used to justify discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents discrimination based on physical and mental disability. Those with mental and physical conditions, particularly those between jobs, often run up large medical bills that can damage their credit. If bad credit is used, even in a cursory way, as a reason to disqualify such people from employment then credit checks become a sort of ‘back door’ way to engage in discrimination.

Critics also argue that there is another form of discrimination at work here: economic discrimination. If an employer uses credit checks to disqualify a potential employee then who is he disqualifying? In most cases the answer is the poor. Those who are poor have less resources to pay bills and are thus more likely to have bad credit. Complicating matters is the reality that even today a disproportionate percentage of minorities are classified as poor. So when credit checks discriminate against the poor they are also likely to discriminate against minorities. So then the question becomes just how much progress have we made in our battle against discrimination?

Despite the controversy over credit checks they are not going away anytime soon so the battle continues. As with all battles only time will determine the victor.

The recent $700 billion dollar bailout offers an interesting side note to the debate on credit checks. Many of the banks involved, like Freddie Mac, would scoff at the notion of hiring employees with bad credit. Yet many of these same banks saw no problem in handing out billions of dollars in housing loans to people with bad or no credit at all.

About the Author

James Liew is the CEO of Titans Law LLC in New York City. He is also a business owner of a law firm in Singapore, Pte Ltd. In 2012 he was awarded with the best criminal lawyer in Singapore by Ministry of Law. He is good in criminal defense cases and helped a lot of people get of of their problem.

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