Federal investigators are giving greater scrutiny to whether business hiring practices include background checks that could result in less hiring of minorities or other protected classes, said Ballard Spahr partner Patricia A. Smith.

Ms. Smith said the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Federal Trade Commission have published new guidelines for employers regarding the use of criminal and other background checks when screening job applicants. “I think it’s only going to grow,” she said.

Civil rights groups have pressed the Obama administration and large employers on the criminal background check issues, arguing they hurt minority hiring. Blacks and Hispanics have higher arrest rates than whites, studies show.

Ms. Smith stated that companies do have leeway when it comes to background checks and hiring decisions―a retailer, for example, wouldn't want to hire a recently convicted shoplifter. But she said the federal agencies are more concerned when employers rule out job candidates based on minor charges that are a number of years removed or are more youthful indiscretions. 

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