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Commission wants to bar criminal history job applicant questions

Likely for as long as we can remember, job applications have asked questions relating to whether or not an applicant has a criminal history. If such a history does exist, a full explanation is required along with dates, dispositions, and any other relevant information. One Iowa group is advocating for change.

The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights is an administrative agency in Waterloo, IA whose purpose is to maintain local civil rights. It was created under Chapter 216.19 of the Code of Iowa, which mandates that cities with population of 29,000 or greater have such a commission. The groups' authority falls under Ordinance 4064, which offers protection from discrimination in many areas, including employment. In addition, it offers protection from retaliation for reporting discriminatory acts. The Commission feels that eliminating the questions regarding criminal history of an applicant will ensure that everyone gets a fair chance at employment. It would not prevent the employer from performing background checks. Further, the ban would apply to both the public and private sector employers.

While some states have passed laws that restrict the ways in which a potential employer may use criminal records to make an employment decision, Iowa is not one of them. However, there are two federal laws that offer protection from such discrimination. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that employers must obtain written consent for a background check, notify the applicant of the potential effects of the report, give the applicant a copy of the report, and advise the applicant of any final decision not to hire based on the report. In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it difficult for an employer to exclude all applicants with a criminal history because of the higher arrest rates of certain populations. This could deem the employer to be guilty of race discrimination.

Anyone who feels that he or she may have been discriminated against, or treated unfairly, based on a criminal background report could benefit from speaking with an attorney. Know your rights, and exercise them.

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