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When Background Checks Lead to Discrimination
When Background Checks Lead to Discrimination
How churches should use screening services to avoid unfair exclusions in hiring.

In response to the numerous cases of child abuse by church employees, most attorneys recommend that churches conduct criminal background checks on employees that work with children and youth. Similarly, churches began requesting credit reports on employees and applicants because of the high rate of reported theft and fears of embezzlement. Unable to resist a good idea, many churches have expanded these checks to include all job applicants. Now the extensive use of background checks may have created a new problem for churches: unlawful discrimination based on race, national origin, and color of skin.

Not too long ago, well-known secular employer paid $3.1 million in financial relief to settle a discrimination claim related to its use of background checks. It also agreed to change its policy regarding criminal background checks.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), more than 300 African American applicants were denied job opportunities with the company because something appeared in a criminal background check that caused the applicant to be denied a job. According to the EEOC, excluding applicants based on the results of a criminal background check can create a violation of Title VII, the law prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The commission says background check results may have a "disparate impact," meaning a disproportionate negative effect on protected classes of workers as compared to the general population, especially those of race and national origin.

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