Looking at the financial history of prospective employees is common in the U.S., with nearly half of employers checking job applicants' credit record.
Some lawmakers want to change that. Sen. Elizabeth Warren this week reintroduced legislation that would ban the practice in most cases. The Massachusetts Democrat argues that a poor credit rating reflects circumstances beyond a person's control, such as unexpected medical costs or unemployment, and not an individual's character or abilities.
"Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness -- let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills," Warren said in a statement.
Based on a measure previously introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, the Equal Employment for All Act would prohibit employers from requiring potential employees to disclose their credit history as part of the job application process. People applying for jobs requiring national security clearance would not be covered by the law and remain subject to credit checks by potential employers.
"It makes no sense to make it harder for people to get jobs because of a system of credit reporting that has no correlation with job performance and that can be riddled with inaccuracies," Warren said, citing a study from the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year that found errors in credit reports to be both common, and hard to correct.
The use of credit reports in evaluating prospective hires picked up steam in the late 1990s, as credit reporting agencies looked for -- and found -- an additional market in which to sell a product initially devised to help lenders evaluate whether to give individuals loans.
The use of credit reports prevents people from getting jobs they are qualified for and "can have a discriminatory impact," Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos, a left-leaning think tank said. "Our research shows credit reports don't provide information that is actually useful for employers, don't show who is going to be a trustworthy or reliable and does not prevent theft or fraud."
The two main reasons employers conduct credit checks on job candidates are to prevent theft and embezzlement, and to reduce legal liability for negligent hiring, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
"SHRM opposes any legislation that would be an absolute bar for employers to have access to credit reports in the employment process, as the consequences of making a negligent hire are significant to employers, their clients and employees as well," Mike Aitken, the group's vice present of government affairs, said.
SHRM's research has found use of credit reports has fallen in recent years, a trend that Aitken attributed to the cost of the reports and the increasing spotlight on their use.
Ten states have passed legislation restricting the use of credit reports in hiring decisions, as did New York City in April.