‘No felons’ hiring policy could amount to discrimination

Most employers would probably consider a policy that forbids the hiring of convicted felons to be a good, common-sense idea – especially in businesses that involve frequent customer contact.

But a blanket policy that disqualifies all applicants with a criminal history could lead to trouble with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency has announced.

Such a policy might be okay – but if its actual goal is to keep out minorities, it could amount to illegal discrimination, the agency says.

For this reason, employers might want to look closely at any such policies and make sure they’re justified by the nature of the work.

For example, a ban on employees with felony convictions might be relevant when hiring a hotel housekeeper who will have close contact with guests and their belongings. But it might not be as relevant for a landscaper who won’t handle money or have any customer contact.

An employer who is able to show a valid business reason for its policy – other than simply not wanting to hire people with a criminal record, regardless of the nature of the crime or how long ago it occurred – will be much more likely to avoid problems.