Bed Bath & Beyond has agreed to a settlement with New York’s Attorney General regarding the company’s policy of refusing to hire all applicants with past criminal convictions. In New York, with the exception of law enforcement jobs, it is illegal for employers to categorically refuse to hire all applicants with criminal convictions. Instead, New York law requires employers to individually consider applicants with criminal convictions before they may refuse to hire them based on their conviction. In making their decision, employers must consider factors such as the specific duties associated with the job, how long ago the applicant was convicted of the crime, and the seriousness of the crime. Applicants with a 20 year old conviction for marijuana possession, for instance, should not be treated the same as someone who was just released from prison for attempted murder.
“This agreement puts employers on notice that slamming the door on job seekers based on past conduct without deciding whether that conduct is relevant to the current job is not only wrong -– it’s unlawful,” said New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman.
“Excluding anyone with a criminal history from employment undermines public safety,” said Madeline Neighly of the National Employment Law Project, an organization that advocates for workers’ rights. “Employment is key to reducing recidivism and strengthening families and community involvement.”
Maine does not have a law like New York’s which expressly prohibits employers from refusing to hire all applicants with criminal convictions. However, under federal and Maine law, it may be unlawful for an employer to institute such a policy because the policy would likely have a disparate impact on African American and Hispanic applicants. When a hiring criterion has a disparate impact on particular racial groups, the employer must show that the criterion is job-related. A blanket policy barring all applicants with criminal convictions would likely not be job-related because some applicants with criminal histories would likely be fit for the job even though others may not be. As we have previously reported, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has guidance that explains under what circumstances an employer may violate discrimination laws when it screens applicants based on their criminal convictions.
If you are African American or Hispanic and you have been refused employment because of a criminal conviction, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.