Agencies explain laws governing acquisition, use of personal background information

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have co-published two technical assistance documents that explain how the agencies' respective laws apply to background checks performed for employment purposes.

One document is for employers; the other is for job applicants and employees. This is the first time that the two agencies have partnered to create resources addressing concerns in this key area.

The agencies emphasize that employers need written permission from job applicants before getting background reports about them from companies in the business of compiling background information. Furthermore, they reaffirm that it is illegal to discriminate based on a person's race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information, including family medical history, when requesting or using background information for employment, regardless of where the information was obtained.

At the same time, the agencies want job applicants to know that it is not illegal for potential employers to ask about their background, as long as the employer does not unlawfully discriminate. However, when people are turned down for a job or denied a promotion based on information in their background reports, they have the right to review the reports for accuracy.

"The laws enforced by the EEOC and the FTC intersect on the issue of employment background checks, so this was a unique opportunity for the agencies to work together to provide user-friendly technical assistance to our stakeholders," said EEOC Legal Counsel Peggy Mastroianni. "The No. 1 goal here is to ensure that people on both sides of the desk understand their rights and responsibilities."

The EEOC enforces federal laws against employment discrimination. The FTC enforces the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the law that protects the privacy and accuracy of the information in credit reports.

CBIA's HR Hotline regularly responds to member questions on conducting background checks and can assist in connecting companies with qualified providers of background check services at discounted rates for CBIA members.