Friday Rant: Prospective Employee Visibility – Privacy & Discrimination vs. Due Diligence

The stubbornly high U.S. jobless rate offers prospective employers an abundance of applicants from whom to choose and has placed most job seekers in the most competitive position of their lives. As with supplier selection, competency, integrity, past performance, and financial stability are all key variables that can offer crucial insights into assessing future performance. The increasing use of credit scores and credit history are the most easily accessible barometer of one's personal finances. But given current high rates of long term unemployment and mortgage balances that exceed property values, is this a fair criterion upon which to accept or decline an otherwise qualified applicant?

It's safe to say that no two individuals are exactly alike and every applicant brings their own unique portfolio of strengths to the table. But if two or more candidates appear comparably qualified, and one has a less than stellar credit report compared with the others, whom would you choose? The rub here -- and it's a big one -- is that even if the poor credit carrying applicant edges out the rest of the pool in other categories, he or she is not likely to be chosen. Since credit reporting typically just scratches the surface of one's profile and history, the majority of organizations are not likely to spend the time, resources or dollars to dig deeper. And worse -- provided that all other positions to which he or she tenders an application will be equally competitive -- such a credit report may well render such an applicant unemployable.

Yesterday's Atlantic quotes Jacqueline Berrien, "who became chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in April, ....[saying] High unemployment has forced an increasing number of people to enter or re-enter the job market, [and] As a result, an ever increasing number of job applicants and workers are being exposed to employment screening tools, such as credit checks, that could unfairly exclude them from job opportunities." The article also states that Ms Berrien "has the practice in her crosshairs" and that "Many unemployed are hurting financially, and their credit scores can suffer as a result... creat[ing] a no-win scenario for the jobless who need work in order to help get them out of debt ... As a result, a handful of states have passed or are considering passing laws to restrict such screening."

So how shall we reconcile allowing organizations that need to hire and assume responsibility for their investment in human capital to fully vet the very best candidates, against precluding a person with a questionable financial history from finding a job. It seems to come down to a question of fairness. Is it fair to not allow a hiring entity visibility into an applicant's financial position? Is it fair to not hire a person who has fallen upon hard times and who has perhaps also made mistakes in managing their money? Some of you are saying to yourselves "hey, who said life is fair" and others -- hopefully more than a few -- are saying "everybody deserves a second chance."

Prohibiting access to one's personal finances is not the answer when that person will be entrusted to make sound monetary decisions on behalf of the organization that supports their livelihood. A willingness on the part of prospective employers to dig deeper, ask follow up questions of the applicant and take the time for a personal interview when an applicant's credit rating is their only red flag, however, is. A little bit of social consciousness could quite literally save a person's life and the well-being of their family. Don't let regulatory agencies and states law rob your company of its right to due diligence or social responsibility.

William Busch

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