City Council Eyes Limit on Hiring Background Checks

The use of criminal background and credit history checks in hiring could be overhauled under two new bills quickly gaining steam in the New York City Council.

One bill would prohibit employers from asking a job applicant about past criminal convictions until after they have already been offered a job. A second bill would make it illegal to use a person's credit history in hiring decisions.

Both bills have gained support in the council to be veto-proof, according to Councilman Brad Lander who sponsored the credit history bill and Councilman Jumaane Williams who sponsored the criminal background check bill.

The bills are designed to help people such as Brian Pearson, of Bedford Stuyvesant, who says he struggled for more than three years to get a job after a 2006 attempted assault conviction.

"If you check the box...they throw your resume out before you even get a call back," Pearson said. "It’s discouraging." 

The criminal background check bill would force employers to take questions about convictions off their application forms and to ask about convictions only after they have made a conditional offer.

If a past conviction becomes an issue, the employer would have to give the applicant at least seven days to respond. The employer would have to keep the job open during that process and if they don't hire the person, the employer would have to justify the decision in writing.

Williams says moving that question to the end of the process would ensure employers follow existing laws.

"I would think of this bill as more of a clean up of what already exists," Williams said. "The law says that you can't discriminate against someone who has a criminal history just based on the fact that they have one. But there is no way to actually know if that's happening."

Some members of the city's business community said the bills will hurt employers. 

"Whether it's in the credit check or the criminal background check they're looking at passing legislation that will limit the ability of employers to check out the people they are hiring, " said Kathryn Wylde. "And what employers are saying is 'Some jobs are sensitive.'"

The criminal background changes would not apply to jobs for which background checks are already required by law such as schools or banks. 

A spokesman for Mayor de Blasio said the administration "supports efforts to reduce discrimination based on credit score, but believe we need to examine whether there are legitimate exemptions that should be worked on." 

The criminal background check bill is set for hearing on December 10.

Follow Melissa Russo on Twitter @MelissaRusso4NY

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