A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreements With Background Check Agencies To End Illegal Hiring Practices

Industry-Transforming Agreements With Top Four Agencies Will Stop Unlawful Disqualification Of Job Seekers

Schneiderman: The Law Requires That Those Who Paid Their Debt To Society Receive Equal Access To Employment Opportunities

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that his office has secured agreements with four of the nation’s largest background check agencies. The agreements prohibit the agencies from automatically disqualifying applicants with criminal convictions and require the agencies to defer hiring decisions to employers who must conduct an individualized consideration of candidates in accordance with New York State law. 

Under the agreements, HireRight Inc., First Advantage, General Information Services Inc. and Sterling Infosystems agree to follow New York laws that make it illegal to automatically disqualify job applicants based solely on criminal history. Specifically, the agencies agree not to issue automatic rejection letters triggered by a conviction on behalf of employers to ensure that employers conduct the required case-by-case, individualized assessments of job candidates. 

“New Yorkers who have paid their debt to society deserve a fair shot at employment opportunities,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Background check agencies that implement blanket bans on hiring ex-offenders are violating New York State law. My office is committed to reforming practices in this industry that frustrate efforts at rehabilitation.”

State law requires that employers consider a number of mitigating factors in making hiring decisions based on criminal history. These include, for example, the nature and gravity of an applicant's criminal conviction; its bearing, if any, on the specific responsibilities of the job sought; the time that has elapsed since the conviction; the age of the applicant at the time when the offense was committed, and evidence of rehabilitation. The law further prohibits third parties from aiding and abetting employers in violating the statute. Attorney General Schneiderman’s office is committed to upholding these laws to ensure that all New Yorkers receive equal access to job opportunities.

The Attorney General’s office began reviewing compliance by the companies after receiving information in 2013 that it was industrywide practice to use grading criteria and instructions provided by employers to automatically disqualify job applicants based on the information contained in a criminal background report. 

By focusing on the largest agencies – which are relied upon by employers across the state – the Attorney General aims to make those employers who seek to ignore the law’s requirements by having background check agencies carry out the unlawful conduct follow the law.

First Advantage, headquartered in Florida, serves more than 45,000 customers globally. Verifications Inc., which has also reformed its practices in response to the Attorney General’s initiative, was acquired by First Advantage last year. HireRight Inc., headquartered in California, does business in 200 countries, and Sterling Infosystems, headquartered in Manhattan, serves more than 20,000 customers globally. General Information Services Inc. claims more than 2,500 clients nationwide.

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “Hiring policies and practices that automatically disqualify job candidates with criminal histories have contributed to the disproportionately high rates of unemployment seen in minority communities today. These agreements will help transform the industry and will ensure that more African-Americans, Latinos and other communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs will have better access to equal employment opportunities.”

Patricia Warth, Co-Director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, a non-profit organization that provides support services to individuals with criminal histories, said, “Getting a job is an important first step for people with prior criminal convictions looking for a fresh start. No companies should profit by erecting barriers to reentry. We applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for taking steps to bring consumer reporting agencies into compliance with the law.”

Pursuant to the agreements and the requirements of state law, the consumer reporting agencies will revise their policies and cease issuing rejection letters triggered by an automatic disqualification; return all background reports to employers to make individualized hiring decisions about applicants with criminal convictions, and communicate these limitations on their roles to all current and prospective clients.

These agreements are part of the Attorney General’s continuing efforts to combat barriers to successful reentry by improving access to employment opportunities for individuals with criminal convictions who are seeking to contribute meaningfully to their communities. Last year, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau secured an agreement with a Fortune 500 company to ensure that persons with criminal history records will receive fair consideration when seeking employment. The Bureau has also responded to municipalities across the state that adopt local ordinances that do not comply with state law requirements.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. The Bureau is part of the Social Justice Division, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to promoting access to equal employment opportunities and combating discrimination faced by all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov

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