California

Reminder about New Requirements for California Employers When Considering Criminal History in Employment Decisions

What is this about:

The California Fair Chance Act requires employers to make a conditional offer of employment before considering an applicant’s criminal history. On October 1, 2023, new regulations by the California Civil Rights Department went into effect regarding how employers can use information about an applicant’s criminal history to rescind a conditional offer.

Effective date:

October 1, 2023

What this means:

Before a conditional offer can be rescinded, a California employer must perform an individualized assessment as to whether the applicant’s criminal history “has a direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.” (California Code of Regulations Section 11017.1(c)(1)).

The specific requirements for the individualized assessment must include, at a minimum, consideration of the following factors: •     the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct;
•     the time that has passed since the offense or conduct occurred or the completion of the sentence;
•     the nature of the job held or sought.

If, after the individualized assessment, the employer makes a preliminary decision to revoke the conditional offer, the employer must notify the applicant in writing of the preliminary decision. The notice (which can be part of the pre-adverse action notice) must include all the following information:

•     the conviction(s) that were the basis for the preliminary decision;
•     a copy of the information relied on for the decision;
•     statement that the applicant or their representative has the right (but is not required) to respond before the decision becomes final, including challenging the information’s accuracy and submitting evidence of rehabilitation or mitigating circumstances;
•     the deadline to respond (no less than five business days after receipt of the notice, and email notice is considered received two business days after it is sent).

If the applicant timely notifies the employer in writing that additional time is needed to respond, the applicant must be given at least five additional business days to respond to the notice before the employer’s preliminary decision becomes final.

The new regulations also expressly prohibit employers from (1) mandating that the applicant respond to the notice or provide information or (2) refusing to consider any information provided by the applicant.   The employer must notify the applicant in writing of any final decision to rescind the offer and include information regarding available procedures to challenge the decision and the right to contest the decision by filing a complaint with the California Civil Rights Department.

Why this matters:

Violations of the new regulations can result in damages for failure to consider the new criminal evaluation factors, including back pay, front pay, and hiring or reinstatement.

What else still matters:

City of Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance (FCIHO)

•     The FCIHO applies broadly to businesses in the city that employ at least 10 people, with certain exceptions.
•     Employers may not ask about an applicant’s record until a conditional offer of employment has been extended.
•     After learning of an applicant’s record, employers must perform an individualized assessment and consider factors including (i) the age of the offense, (ii) the nature of the offense, and (iii) specific duties of the job sought. Written notice must be provided to applicants.
•     The ordinance provides aggrieved job applicants a private right of action.

City & County of San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance (FCO)

•     The FCO applies to employers with 5 or more employees worldwide and all City contractors, subcontractors, and leaseholders.
•     Employers may not conduct a background check or ask about criminal records until after making a conditional offer of employment.
•     After learning of an applicant’s record, an employer shall conduct an individualized assessment, considering only (i) directly related convictions, (ii) the time that has elapsed since the conviction or unresolved arrest, and (iii) any evidence of inaccuracy or evidence of rehabilitation or other mitigating factors.
•     The employer must provide the applicant with a copy of the FCO Notice and background check report. The applicant has seven days to respond for the purpose of correcting the record, providing evidence of rehabilitation, or any other mitigating factors.
•     Applicants may bring a civil action against the employer or other person violating this FCO.

Best practices:

California state law, the FCIHO, and FCO all require employers to make a conditional offer of employment before considering an applicant’s criminal history. As a best practice, employers should consider using a two-step process when obtaining a background check report. The first step involves obtaining all non-criminal checks, such as a review of the applicant’s employment and educational history. The second step involves obtaining the applicant’s criminal record history after a conditional offer of employment is made.  

Several other cities and Hawaii have enacted “ban-the-box” or “fair chance laws” that require a conditional offer of employment be made to applicants before a criminal background check can be made.

How SI can help:

Experienced in preparing background check reports using a two-step process, SI makes the process seamless. We can also provide sample adverse action notices and other guidance.

Disclaimer: This communication is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No recipient should act or refrain from acting based on any information provided here without advice from a qualified attorney licensed in the applicable jurisdiction.

New York Civil Cases and the RJI

State courts often have some quirky procedures, and the New York Supreme Court is no exception. Civil records from the New York Supreme Court typically include a reference to an “RJI” and whether it has been filed. What does “RJI” mean?

Definition: RJI is an abbreviation for “Request for Judicial Intervention.” It’s a form that is filed by either a plaintiff or defendant sometime after the summons and complaint is served on the defendant in a civil case.

Filing Effect: When an RJI is filed, the civil case is assigned to a judge.

What does this mean? When a plaintiff files a complaint in the New York Supreme Court to start a civil case, the court’s only action is to assign the case an index number. The court will not take any other action regarding the case – such as deciding a motion or order to show cause or hold a conference or trial – until either the plaintiff or defendant files an RJI. When the RJI is filed, the case is assigned randomly to a judge who will decide everything in the case until it is over.

How long will a case stay in the pre-RJI status? Because New York law does not specify a time limit for pre-RJI status, a civil case could be pending for years without any activity showing on the publicly available docket other than the filing and service of the summons and complaint.

That is the quirk in the New York Supreme Court civil case procedures – the possibility of a lengthy period of no case activity during the pre-RJI status.

To ensure that a civil case is timely prosecuted, many state courts assign a judge to a civil case when the summons and complaint are filed.

March 21st, 2022|Compliance Corner|

How to consider sex offender registry records in California (Updated)

For California employers concerned about hiring sex offenders, there are a few important points to keep in mind.

An employer has a duty to keep the workplace free of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination under state law. Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), an employer can face significant liability if it knowingly employs a sex offender and fails to take actions to protect its other employees from unlawful behavior by that person.

To avoid this problem, employers would like to know if they are hiring a registered sex offender. But how can they find out?

Since 2005, the state has operated a Megan’s Law website with a database to obtain access to the state’s list of more than 100,000 registered sex offenders. Created to help state residents better protect their families by being able to search for an individual registrant or by geographic location, the site (https://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/Default.aspx) contains the sex offender’s name, aliases, age, gender, race, address, physical description and, in some cases, a photograph.

While the site would appear to be a boon for employers, state law expressly forbids use of the state’s sex offender registry information for employment purposes. California Penal Code section 209.46(l)(2)(E) prohibits the use of information disclosed on the website for purposes relating to health insurance, insurance, loans, credit, education, housing and employment, among other uses.

Statutory exceptions provide for use “to protect a person at risk,” a term not defined by the Penal Code, as well as for employers required by law or authorized to request criminal history from the California Department of Justice. Examples of businesses that meet this standard may include child care centers, financial institutions and governmental agencies.

An employer who runs afoul of the Penal Code’s prohibition can face actual and exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees and a civil fine. Legislative history explains that the website attempts to protect the public while not inflicting additional punishment on registrants.

For employers trying to walk the fine line of protecting other employees and third parties, such as customers, from potential sex offender registrant employees while not violating the Penal Code, two alternate avenues exist to try to find out information about a sex offender: conviction records and employee/applicant self-disclosure.

Following applicable state and federal law, employers can conduct a criminal background check on applicants and employees and learn of a sex offense conviction. (However, convictions past the seven-year cut-off date in California may not appear on a background check report while the individual may still appear in the sex offender registry). An applicant or employee may also self-disclose a conviction.

Providing another wrinkle for California employers, the state’s Fair Chance Act took effect on January 1, 2018, mandating that employers with five or more employees must wait until after a conditional offer of employment has been made to ask any questions about criminal history. This includes inquiries about convictions, running a background check or other efforts to find out about an applicant’s criminal past.

If the employer decides not to hire the applicant, it must conduct an individualized assessment of the conviction at issue to evaluate whether it has a “direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.” Other legal requirements, based on both state and federal law, must also be satisfied if an employer takes an adverse action on the basis of the background check (see our prior blog post (https://www.scherzer.com/reminder-to-california-employers-about-requirements-when-taking-adverse-action-based-on-a-criminal-record/) for more details).

What if an employer learns that an employee is a registered sex offender from another employee’s perusal of the Megan’s Law website? This situation could trigger liability under section 290.46 and employers should be careful to take action only after evaluating any potential risk the sex offender employee may pose to coworkers or customers, considering all the facts and circumstances.

March 17th, 2022|Compliance Corner|

Expungement of Criminal Convictions – California Style

Some states allow a defendant convicted of a crime to apply for a court order limiting public access to the conviction record or to restore rights and remove disabilities caused by the conviction. This type of order is commonly referred to as an expungement; however, the qualifications for obtaining an expungement and the effect of the expungement vary among the states that allow expungements.

California has an expungement procedure set forth in Penal Code 1203.4. If a defendant meets the qualification of Penal Code 1203.4, the court will allow the defendant to withdraw a plea of guilty or no contest, to reenter a plea of not guilty, and to have the case dismissed. The defendant is also relieved from many of the negative consequences of a criminal conviction.

When reviewing California criminal records showing a conviction, it is important to note if there is also a reference to a Penal Code 1203.4 dismissal because this can impact whether the record is reportable in a background check for a California employer. For example, California law does not allow the reporting of criminal records that result in a non-conviction in employment-purpose reports. Even though the record shows a conviction, the Penal Code 1203.4 dismissal effectively means the conviction never happened.

The reference to the code section will typically be found on the case docket, dated a year or so after the conviction date.

January 26th, 2022|Compliance Corner|

California’s overlapping background check laws

For many years, employers have struggled with California’s overlapping statutes governing the use of background checks. Now, the state’s highest court has weighed in, ruling that compliance with the requirements of both laws is mandatory, even where the laws overlap.

A little history is necessary to understand the situation. In 1970, Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The law defined the term “consumer report” to include an individual’s “credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living.” The FCRA distinguished between consumer reports that contained information obtained by personal interviews and consumer reports gathered by other means.

The California legislature responded with two state analogues in 1975: the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA) and the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA). Modeled on the FCRA, the statutes had similar purposes and were intended to serve complementary goals.

As originally enacted, the ICRAA applied to consumer reports that included character information obtained only through personal interviews. It defined an “investigative consumer report” as one “in which information on a consumer’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living is obtained through any means.” The statute requires that the person procuring the report provide the consumer a “clear and conspicuous disclosure in writing” and that the consumer in turn provide a written authorization for the report’s procurement.

Lawmakers took a slightly different approach with CCRAA, which defined a “consumer credit report” as “any written, oral or other communication of any information by a consumer reporting agency bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity, which is used or is expected to be used … for … employment purposes.” The definition excluded “any report containing information solely on a consumer’s character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is obtained through personal interviews with neighbors, friends, or associates of the consumer reported on, or others with whom he is acquainted or who may have knowledge concerning any such items of information.”

In 1998, the California legislature amended ICRAA to eliminate the personal interview limitation and expand the statute’s scope to include character information obtained under CCRAA or “obtained through any means.”

Since then, CCRAA continues to govern consumer reports that include character information obtained from a source other than personal interviews, as long as those reports contain information “bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, or credit capacity.”

What does all this mean for employers? And how did the California Supreme Court get involved?

The two statutes came to the attention of the court when a group of current and former school bus drivers filed suit against their employers, First Student and First Transit, as well as the investigative consumer reporting agency (ICRA) that conducted background checks on the drivers. Eileen Connor led the class action.

After First Student acquired the company where Connor worked as a driver, it requested that the ICRA run background checks to confirm that Connor and the other workers were properly qualified to perform their job duties. The background reports elicited information about the employees’ criminal records, sex offender registries, address history, driving records and employment history.

Prior to conducting the background checks, First Student sent Connor a “Safety Packet” booklet. The booklet included an “Investigative Consumer Report Disclosure and Release” that provided authorization for the ICRA to prepare a consumer report or investigative consumer report. The notice included a checkbox that generally described Connor’s rights under ICRAA, informed her that she could check the box if she wanted to receive a copy of the report and released First Student from all claims and damages arising out of or relating to its background investigation if the box was checked.

Connor filed suit, arguing that the notice failed to satisfy ICRAA’s specific requirements and that First Student neglected to obtain her written authorization to conduct the background check, as required by ICRAA.

First Student asked the court to dismiss the suit, arguing that ICRAA is unconstitutionally vague as applied to the lawsuit because it overlaps with CCRAA and that the notice satisfied CCRAA.

The California Supreme Court found that while the statutes overlap to some degree, achieving compliance with both did not render ICRAA unconstitutional. The two statutes were not intended to be exclusive of each other, the court said, and potential employers can comply with both statutes without undermining the purpose of either.

“If an employer seeks a consumer’s credit records exclusively, then the employer need only comply with CCRAA,” the court explained. “An employer seeking other information that is obtained by any means must comply with ICRAA. In the event that any other information revealed in an ICRAA background check contains a subject’s credit information and the two statutes thus overlap, a regulated party is expected to know and follow the requirements of both statutes, even if that requires greater formality in obtaining a consumer’s credit records.”

First Student complained that because the ICRAA and CCRAA cover the same subject matter, it was unclear which statute applied in the context of employment background checks. But the court disagreed. Connor’s report, for example, fell within the scope of both statutes and “such a duality does not make legal compliance particularly difficult, must less impossible,” the court said.

“Any partial overlap between the statutes does not render one superfluous or unconstitutionally vague,” the court wrote. “They can coexist because both acts are sufficiently clear and each act regulates information that the other does not.”

The California Supreme Court opinion was a loss for First Student and the ICRA, as the court found the defendants had no excuse for not complying with both statutes. For employers more generally, the decision sends an important message: compliance with the requirements of both ICRAA and CCRAA is mandatory, even where the two statutes overlap.

October 1st, 2018|Employment Decisions, Legislation|

Reminder to California employers about requirements when taking adverse action based on a criminal record

With the enactment of an updated ban-the-box statute (the Fair Chance Act) on January 1, 2018, employers in California may need a refresher on how to take adverse action based on the criminal record of an applicant.

For those businesses located in Los Angeles, the requirements take on an additional level of complication due to slight differences in the city’s ordinance.

Pursuant to California law, employers with five or more employees must wait until after a conditional offer of employment has been made to ask any questions about a criminal history. This means inquiries about convictions, running a background check or other efforts to find out about an applicant’s criminal past.

As an aside, several types of criminal records are not allowed to be used by employers in the hiring process (including juvenile records, diversions and deferrals, non-felony marijuana convictions that are more than two years old and arrests that did not lead to a conviction).If the employer decides not to hire the applicant, it must conduct an individualized assessment of the conviction at issue to evaluate whether it has a “direct and adverse relationship with the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position.”

The applicant needs to be notified of the potential for adverse action based on the conviction. Such notice must identify the conviction at issue and include a copy of any background check report; the employer must also provide a deadline for the applicant to submit additional information with regard to the conviction (such as rehabilitation efforts or other mitigating circumstances).

Federal law also kicks in. For those employers that intend to rely in whole or in part on a background check report to take adverse action such as rescinding a conditional job offer, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) mandates that applicants be given a pre-adverse action notice, a copy of the report and a notice of rights.

Once the applicant has provided any information and the employer makes a final decision, a second notice is required. This time, the notice should inform the applicant of the final adverse action, explain any procedure in place for the applicant to challenge the decision or request reconsideration and describe the applicant’s right to file a complaint with the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). If the FCRA has been triggered by the use of a background check report, the employer must also provide the applicant with an adverse action notice that contains FCRA-required text.

While this process may seem onerous, employers that hire workers in Los Angeles face additional requirements under the city’s Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring Ordinance (FCIHO). The law, which took effect on January 22, 2017, applies to employers with 10 or more workers (defined to include individuals who perform at least two hours of work on average in Los Angeles and are covered by the state’s minimum wage law).

The FCIHO has a narrower definition of a “conditional offer of employment” than that under state law – here, an offer of employment to an applicant “is conditioned only on an assessment of the applicant’s criminal history, if any, and the duties and responsibilities of the employment position.”

Regardless of the source of criminal history, if an employer elects not to hire an applicant, a written assessment that “effectively links the specific aspects of the applicant’s criminal history with risks inherent in the duties of the employment position sought by the applicant” must be performed.

This assessment needs to be provided to the applicant as part of the “fair chance process,” along with any other documentation or information used by the employer as well as a pre-adverse action notice. Again, if a background check report was used, the FCRA requirements apply. The applicant also receives an opportunity to share information the employer should consider before making a final decision, such as evidence of rehabilitation.

After at least five business days, the employer may make a final decision. If the applicant provided additional documentation or information, the employer is obligated to consider it and conduct a written reassessment. If the employer decides to take adverse action against the applicant anyway, the employer must notify the applicant and provide a copy of the reassessment along with the adverse action notice.

New Employment Background Screening Legislation for 2017

“Ban-the-box”

“Ban-the-box” measures, which generally prohibit employers from inquiring about a candidate’s criminal history (including performing background checks) until later in the hiring process, and impose significant compliance requirements, will soon be the norm rather than an exception. The city of Los Angeles, with its new Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring ordinance, is just the latest to join the fast growing list of localities (Austin, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Columbia – MO, District of Columbia, Montgomery County – MD, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Prince George’s County – MD, Rochester, San Francisco, and Seattle) and nine states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont (effective July 1, 2017)) that have enacted similar laws  for private employers.

Juvenile criminal record checks   

Effective January 1, 2017, AB 1843 amends Section 432.7 of the Labor Code to prohibit California employers from inquiring about and considering information regarding “an arrest, detention, process, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition” that occurred while the candidate was subject to the process and jurisdiction of a juvenile court. Certain employment situations are exempted from these requirements, such as a prohibition by law from hiring an applicant who has been convicted of a crime.

Criminal background checks for transportation network companies

Effective January 1, 2017, under California’s AB 1289, a transportation network company (“TNC”) such as Uber, is required to perform criminal background checks on all drivers. The bill also prohibits a TNC from contracting with a driver who is registered on the DOJ’s national sex offender website or has been convicted of specified felonies, or misdemeanor assault or battery, domestic violence, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within the past seven years.

Credit check restrictions

The District of Columbia is the latest jurisdiction to pass a law that prohibits private employers, with certain exceptions, from conducting credit checks on job applicants. The Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act, which amends the Human Rights Act of 1977 to include credit information as a protected trait will take effect following approval by Mayor Bowser and other enactment actions. Similar to the laws already in effect in ten states for private employers (California – AB 22; Colorado – The Employment Opportunity Act; Connecticut  – SB 361; Hawaii – HB 31 SD1; Illinois  – HB 4658; Maryland  HB 87;  Nevada – SB 127; Oregon – SB 1045; Vermont – Act No. 154 (S. 95); Washington – RCW 19.182 and  RCW 19.182.020) and at least two cities (New York City – Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act and Philadelphia – Bill No. 160072), it restricts checking an applicant’s credit history except in circumstances where a credit screen is justified by the position’s responsibilities or is required by law.

Wage history inquiries

Pay equity initiatives include California’s AB 1676, which effective January 1, 2017, prohibits employers from using a candidate’s prior salary as the sole basis to justify a pay disparity. California, however, has decided not to follow the Massachusetts provisions (described below) of banning inquiries regarding a candidate’s wage history.

Massachusetts was the first jurisdiction to pass a law that prevents employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. The commonwealth’s Pay Equity Act goes into effect July 1, 2018, and in addition to equal pay requirements, it makes it illegal, among other things, to: (1) require that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about his or her wages, or any other employee’s wages; (2) screen job applicants based on their wages; (3) request or require a candidate to disclose prior wages or salary history; or (4) seek the salary history from a current or former employer, unless he/she provides express written consent, and an offer of employment, including proposed compensation, has been extended.

Effective May 23, 2017, the city of Philadelphia with its Fair Practices Ordinance: Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination will make it unlawful for employers to inquire about a candidate’s wage history during the hiring process, unless a federal, state, or local law specifically authorizes the disclosure or verification of wage information.

Drug testing – marijuana

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCLS), 31 states/jurisdictions (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) have public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, while several states (Alaska – Ballot Measure No. 2; California – Proposition 64; Colorado – Amendment 64; District of Columbia – Initiative 71; Maine – Question 1; Massachusetts  – Question 4;  Nevada – Question 2; Oregon – Measure 91; and Washington Initiative 502) have passed laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana by adults.  Since the legal landscape for marijuana use is changing rapidly, employers should review and update their substance abuse policies, including drug-testing. Notably, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Work authorization verification

California’s SB 1001 is a revival of the 2015  AB 1065, which effective January 1, 2017, makes it unlawful for employers to:

  1. Request additional or different documents than those required under federal law to verify that an individual is not an unauthorized immigrant
  2. Refuse to accept documents provided by the applicant that reasonably appear to be genuine
  3. Refuse to honor documents or work authorization based on specific status or term that accompanies the authorization to work
  4. Attempt to reinvestigate or re-verify a candidate’s authorization to work using an unfair immigration-related practice.

Effective January 1, 2017, Tennessee’s SB 1965 requires that companies with 50 or more employees use the federal E-Verify program to confirm new employees’ work authorization.

As a reminder, starting January 22, 2017, all employers must use the new Form I-9, which is dated November 14, 2016 (the edition date is on the bottom of the form).  Employers that fail to use the new form may be subject to civil penalties.

Mini FCRA update: Georgia enacts new law, California law mired in uncertainty

Enacted in 1970, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides federal regulation of consumer reporting agencies that provide consumer reports to third parties.

In the 45 years since the FCRA took effect, several states have passed their own version of the statute to provide additional protections for consumers. Colloquially referred to as “mini” FCRAs, the laws can be found in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Joining the group: Georgia, where House Bill 328 took effect on July 1. The new law applies to consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) that “conduct business” within the state, defined as those entities that “provide information to any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or any other group however organized that is domiciled within this state or whose principal place of business” is located within Georgia’s borders.

A CRA encompasses any person or entity “which, for monetary fees or dues or on a cooperative nonprofit basis, regularly engages in whole or in part in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties.”

For its part, a consumer report broadly includes “any written, oral, or other communication of any information bearing on a consumer’s credit worthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, character, general reputation, personal characteristics, or mode of living which is used or expected to be used or collected in whole or in part for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing the consumer’s eligibility for purposes of credit, insurance, or employment.”

As it closely tracks the federal FCRA, Georgia’s law provides that a CRA that furnishes consumer reports for employment purposes in compliance with the federal statute will be in compliance with the state version.

While Georgia’s new law already took effect, other states have struggled with application of their mini FCRAs.

For example, in 2013, a federal court judge California ruled that one of the state’s two FCRA corrollaries, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (ICRAA), was unconstitutionally vague in Roe v. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc. The case involved an anonymous plaintiff who sued when she failed to obtain employment.  She argued she didn’t get the job as a result of an allegedly inaccurate background check furnished by the defendant to her prospective employer in violation of both the FCRA and the ICRAA.

The defendant argued that the ICRAA was unconstitutionally vague as applied and the court agreed. In addition to the FCRA and the ICRAA, California had previously enacted the Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act (CCRAA), a law that governs consumer credit checks. The interplay between the CCRAA and ICRAA resulted in confusion for covered entities, the court found, as criminal background information about consumers was regulated by both laws, leaving companies uncertain about which statute’s requirements actually applied.

Although the plaintiff appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate panel dismissed the appeal for procedural reasons; on remand, the federal district court later dismissed the case with prejudice in December 2013. However, the opinion in Roe remains valid law in the state, leaving a shadow of uncertainty hanging over the ICRAA.

Read Georgia’s House Bill 328.

Read Roe v. LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc.

September 23rd, 2015|Employment Decisions, FCRA|

California’s marijuana laws present challenges for employers

Even for those not partaking in marijuana, the various California laws regulating its use can be confusing – particularly for employers.

The trend in state legislatures to permit the recreational and/or medicinal use of marijuana began with California’s Compassionate Use Act in 1996, which allowed state residents to use the drug for medical purposes and decriminalized possession of less than 28 grams. Complicating the matter, however: marijuana use remains prohibited by federal law.

With limited use of marijuana legal in the state, how can employers find out about a worker’s use of the drug or limit it without running afoul of state law?

Employers have two options, either try to get their hands on historical information, such as criminal convictions, or seek out current input via drug testing.

Criminal history related to drugs in many instances is off-limits for employers. Job applicants cannot be required to disclose an arrest that did not result in a conviction or participation in a pretrial or post-trial diversion program. Any criminal history that has been expunged, sealed, or dismissed will be unavailable as are marijuana-related convictions dating back more than two years.

While California has not banned the box for private employers, local jurisdictions such as San Francisco have, requiring employers to wait until after a live interview or determining that an applicant meets the qualifications for the position before inquiring into criminal history. Background checks – whether performed in-house or by a third party – require compliance with federal law (the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA) as well as California’s counterpart, the Investigative Consumer Reporting Agencies Act (although the legality of the state statute is unclear, see story below for more detail). And such investigations into applicants’ history are a current target for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – which has filed multiple lawsuits (https://scherzer.co/eeoc-loses-again-in-challenge-to-background-checks/) against employers alleging their background checks constitute disparate impact discrimination against protected groups like African-Americans – and a popular basis for class actions. Recent cases have settled with multi-million awards, including a $2.5 million payout by Domino’s Pizza and a $6.8 million deal between Publix Super Markets and a class of applicants alleging the company violated the FCRA.

Drug tests can be viable option for employers. Once a job offer has been made, an employer may require an applicant to pass a drug test as a condition of employment (as long as all potential employees are subject to the same requirement). After a worker has been hired, drug tests may be used if an employer has a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence. Certain jobs – such as those in the transportation industry like truck drivers – may permit such testing more freely. If a test comes back positive, employers do have the discretion to discipline, terminate, or choose not to hire an applicant even if the individual legally holds a medical marijuana card issued by the state. In addition, despite the requirements under the Americans With Disabilities Act and California state law to provide reasonable accommodations to employees considered disabled, neither federal nor state law requires employers to permit marijuana use as such an accommodation.

Trend of suing employers for technical FCRA violations continues

The threat of a multi-million potential class action lawsuit alleging technical violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) continues to haunt employers, even where the plaintiffs have alleged or proven no harm.

Pursuant to the statute, employers are required to “provide prior written notice before they can procure a consumer report about any employee or applicant for employment.” Just as important, 15 U.S.C. Section 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i) adds that the notice must be given “in a document that consists solely of the disclosure.”

Seeking to take advantage of the statutory damages available under the FCRA – from $100 up to $1,000 for a willful violation – plaintiffs have challenged employers’ use of a disclosure form that combined the written notice to procure a consumer report with other information or documents, such as an application form.

The trend to sue for FCRA technical violations was started by Singleton v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC in the U.S. District Court of Maryland (case no. 8:11-cv-01823-DKC) where the court ruled that inclusion of a liability release in the employer’s disclosure/authorization form violates the FCRA. Domino’s ended up reaching a settlement with the plaintiffs in 2013 for $2.5 million.

Also taking a strict reading of the statutory language, the Western District Court of Pennsylvania ruled in 2013 in Reardon v. Closetmaid Corporation (case no. 2:0S-cv-01730) that an employer could be liable for the combination of a disclosure/authorization with a liability waiver, and granted summary judgment in favor of the roughly 1,800 job applicants.

In a more recent example, a class of applicants sued Publix Super Markets in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (case no. 3:14-cv-00720) also based on a violation of the sole disclosure requirement and release of liability. With Domino’s and Closetmaid’s payouts looming over its head and a class of 90,000, Publix agreed to settle the claims for $6.8 million earlier last year.

Although these companies opted not to fight the suits on their merits, a defendant in a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (case no. 1:14-742-WBS-BAM) did and won dismissal in October 2014. Syed v. M-I LLC involved identical claims but the judge reached a contrary decision, finding that the FCRA text was not as clear-cut as the plaintiff claimed. Immediately following the subsection mandating the sole disclosure of the employer’s intent to procure a consumer report is a provision that states that the consumer’s authorization is to “be made on the document referred to in clause (i)” – “that is, the same document as the disclosure,” the court noted, and “…thus, the statute itself suggests that the term ‘solely’ is more flexible than at first it may appear…”

The Syed decision is the second one that may give hope to employers facing similar suits. (There are at least six class actions pending.) But the obvious answer for companies looking to avoid the problem entirely is simple: use a standalone disclosure/authorization form that is separate from any other information or documents.

January 29th, 2015|Employment Decisions, Lawsuit|
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