Your Rights Regarding Pre-employment Credit Checks

Donna photo redNevada has just joined the ranks of 9 other states that have outlawed the use of credit history to discriminate against potential employees. However, they’re still a minority. Still, there’s a clear trend in the states. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “42 bills in 24 states and the District of Columbia have been introduced or are pending in the 2013 legislative session relating to the use the credit information in employment  decisions. Out of the total 42 bills, 39 address restrictions on the use of credit information in employment decisions.”

In most states, pre-employment credit checks are legal. Employers argue that bad credit are an indication that the person may embezzle or be dishonest. I say nonsense. People with good credit embezzle all the time. People with bad credit may have just had a run of bad luck, a nasty divorce, uninsured medical bills, or some other unavoidable financial disaster. Being poor is not the same as being dishonest.

The recession brought this issue to a head. Suddenly 10% of the population was unemployed. People with stellar credit found themselves in trouble. While government tends not to pay attention to issues affecting the poor, when it hits the middle class, suddenly everyone cares.

There have been multiple attempts to address this situation in Congress. All have failed. In my opinion the current Congress won’t do anything until the problem  starts to impact the upper class. We have a very anti-employee majority  in office. The only way things will change is if voters speak up and  tell their representatives to make employers butt out of their finances.

So, what do you do if you’re in the unlucky majority of states that still allow this invasion of your privacy?

I suggest honesty. If you have bad credit, be ready to explain your situation. Tell the interviewer your plan to address the situation. While being “in over your head” may be considered an indicator of potential dishonesty, it doesn’t mean you’re going to become an embezzler. If you can demonstrate that you have a plan to get out from under the debt, the HR department might feel reassured.

What are your rights if an employer runs your credit history?

If your potential employer is going to run a credit check, then they must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This requirement covers anything the employer is getting from a consumer reporting agency that covers personal and credit characteristics, character, general reputation, or lifestyle, but not the HR department running your name on Google, checking out your Facebook page, or reading your blog.

If they are going to run a credit check, they have to give you a document solely for the purpose of telling you they intend to conduct a credit check. It was probably shoved in with a stack of papers they handed you with your application or pre-employment forms. They need your permission in writing.

They must also tell you if they’re about to deny a job, reassign, or terminate you because of what was disclosed in a credit report. They must give you written notice with a copy of your credit report and a document called “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.” This process does not apply to truckers.

Once the employer decides to use the report against you, they must then give another notice, this time telling you the name of the agency that did the credit report, saying the agency isn’t the one that made the adverse decision, and telling you how to dispute the information in the report with the agency. This notice can be verbal or in writing, unless you’re a trucker, in which case it must be written.

If an employer runs your credit history without permission, they’ve broken the law. If they don’t jump through all the hoops required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have potential claims against them. In that case, contact an employment lawyer in your state to discuss your options.

The EEOC views the use of employment credit checks as potentially discriminatory against women and minorities. If you’ve been denied a job or had other adverse action taken against you by an employer based on bad credit, you might want to explore the possibility that you have a discrimination claim with an employee-side employment lawyer in your state.

This article was originally printed on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on June 21, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Donna Ballman‘s new book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards, was recently named the Winner of the Law Category of the 2012 USA Best Books Awards and is currently available for purchase. She is the award-winning author of The Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers, a book geared toward informing novelists and screenwriters about the ins and outs of the civil justice system. She’s been practicing employment law, including negotiating severance agreements and litigating discrimination, sexual harassment, noncompete agreements, and employment law issues in Florida since 1986. Her blog on employee-side employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home, was named one of the 2011 and 2012 ABA Blawg 100 best legal blogs and the 2011 Lexis/Nexis Top 25 Labor and Employment Law Blogs.

She has written for AOL Jobs and The Huffington Post on employment law issues, and has been an invited guest blogger for and Ask A Manager. She has over 6000 followers on Twitter as @EmployeeAtty. She has taught continuing legal education classes for lawyers and accountants through organizations such as the National Employment Lawyers Association, Sterling Education Services, Lorman Education Services, Alison Seminars, the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and community organizations.  Ms. Ballman has published articles on employment law topics such as severance, non-compete agreements, discrimination, sexual harassment, and avoiding litigation. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Lifetime Television Network, the Daily Business Review, and many other media outlets on employment law issues. She was featured on the Forbes Channel’s “America’s Most Influential Women” program on the topic of severance negotiations and non-compete agreements.


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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.