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The law protects against background-check-related discrimination


When being interviewed for a potential job, it is not always easy to know whether hiring personnel are crossing the line or not when they seek to ask personal questions. Potential employers are not allowed to ask questions that are discriminatory with regards to protected characteristics. For example, they may not ask questions which might cause them to discriminate against you based on your religion, race, nationality or age.

However, the situation gets a little trickier when a criminal record is involved. The question becomes: when is it and when is it not technically employment discrimination to research or otherwise inquire into an individual's criminal history or other personal information for hiring purposes?

Background checks are fairly standard procedure in the hiring process. And while employers may require you to disclose your criminal record on an application, they may not ordinarily reject you as a qualified candidate simply because of that record.

In fact, only in rare exceptions (such as a former child molester applying for a job working with children) may employers reject candidates outright due to their criminal past.

Even beyond criminal background checks, more and more employers have recently been admonished by federal regulators for discriminating against applicants based on their credit histories, Facebook and other social media profiles and other unapproved background check mechanisms.

Congress, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state legislators are cracking down on these discriminatory hiring practices. But until employers are held more broadly accountable for these widespread practices, it will fall to potential employees to report discriminatory hiring practices and hope that their voices are appropriately heard.

Source:, "How Much Can Potential Employers Ask About You?" Alan Greenblatt, May 22, 2012

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