Appeals Court Rules Against Obama-Era Proposal to Restrict Criminal-Background Checks for Job Seekers

August 10, 2019

(Marketwatch.

Court decision lands while new laws aim to ease employment for ex-convicts.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission overstepped its powers by crafting rules telling employers how they should evaluate job applicants with criminal histories, according to the Fifth Circuit appeals court.

At a time when almost one-third of all working-age adults have a criminal record, the Fifth Circuit blocked the EEOC from enforcing a 2012 policy warning of possible civil-rights violations if employers rely too much on criminal records to reject applicants.

Obama administration-era regulators unveiled the policy, which built on longstanding efforts to prevent what it saw as unfair treatment of applicants with criminal records who were disproportionately people of color.

The unanimous decision didn’t get into whether the EEOC policy was a good idea. The ruling instead focused on whether government agencies have the power to make rules, and under what sort of process.

Obama administration-era regulators unveiled the policy in April 2012, which built on longstanding efforts to prevent of what it saw as unfair treatment of applicants with criminal records who were disproportionately people of color.

Texas sued in 2013, saying the guidance clashed with its own rules against hiring felons for certain government jobs, like those in public safety positions.

The EEOC didn’t have the power to create guidance policy enacted in 2012, the judges concluded. The court kept a previous injunction in place that blocked the EEOC from enforcing the policy against Texas, the state bringing the case.

In fact, Tuesday’s ruling strengthened the injunction’s wording.

Various laws allow employers to weed out candidates with criminal records if there’s a link between applicants rap sheet and the job in question. But over 30 states push questions about criminal records beyond the application process.

Federal lawyers said there’s been a shift under the Trump administration, and there was now no real chance they would try to enforce the non-binding EEOC guidance policy.

The about-face made no difference to the Fifth Circuit judges.

Various laws let employers weed out candidates with criminal records, so long as there’s a link between someone’s rap sheet and the sort of job in question. Yet over 30 questions about criminal records beyond the application process.

One part of the federal First Step Act, recently-enacted criminal justice reform, opens up funding for job training as convicts re-integrate into society.

Though Trump signed the First Step Act into law, his administration has been criticized for a proposed tweak on jobapplication rules. The planned change would make federal job seekers reveal if they participated in programs allowing them to avoid jail time for low-level offenses.

Spokespeople for the EEOC and the Texas Attorney General’s office did not immediately have a comment on the decision.