Time to lay off the credit checks, employers

As a society, we've gotten a little too used to prying into one another's lives. Blame it on technology, social media, helicopter parenting, reality TV, what have you, but our culture has shifted noticeably toward the extreme in this regard. And one of the ways in which we've gotten most carried away is that of background checks on potential employees.

I bring this up because I was having lunch yesterday with an old friend, who is also a business owner. He was about to make an offer to a job applicant, contingent upon the applicant passing a few background checks. Along with a criminal background check, my friend was also ordering a credit check done on the applicant, through a third party agency.

Though this was not the first time I had heard of this, I was still taken aback. I understand the desire and need for a criminal background on a potential employee, particularly when hiring for a small business. I've performed these checks on applicants on behalf of my own business in the past. But a credit check?

I asked him if this was for a controller position or something similar, related to finance or fiduciary responsibilities. He said no, not at all. The applicant was applying for a digital marketing opportunity. I asked him why a credit check was necessary for a position not remotely related to anything to do with finance. Additionally, even if it was, wasn't a credit check unnecessarily invasive? What did it really have to do with the potential employee's ability to do the job? Wouldn't a criminal background check cover anything an employer needed to know?

His answer was that he does them all the time for every position within his organization, so he feels that he can't start making exceptions.

I told him he didn't really answer my question, and again asked him why this was necessary. He repeated what he said in a few different ways... And still didn't give me a direct answer.

The reason he couldn't give me a substantive reason, is because there is none. Someone's credit or debt-to-income ratio is no reflection on that person's ability to do a job. Specifically, that person may have had financial issues related to a long term gap in employment due to a layoff, a health crisis, or a number of other things. Furthermore, there is no reason a person's potential workplace needs to know any of that. It's none of an employer's business and no reflection on an employee's ability to perform the job. All it does for the employer is to provide some illusory sense of control and level of comfort, that simply does not exist. Therefore, these sorts of checks should not happen.

Oh, and by the way, if an employer discovers that the job applicant has bad credit and/or debt that the applicant needs to pay down, guess what? The best way for an applicant to rectify those things is TO GET A JOB.

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