Are credit checks a helpful hiring tool?

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While the US is clamping down on candidate credit checks, the practice is becoming increasingly popular in Canada – but is it a form of discrimination or do they really help HR make better hiring decisions? HRM investigates.

Picking up pace

Made popular by the financial industry, the use of credit checks to screen potential employees has now reached the mainstream – even the federal government recently introduced mandatory checks for all public servants – but employees, and unions, aren’t happy.

Representatives have criticised the policy as “an unnecessary invasion of privacy” and expressed concern that it could be used in an arbitrary way.

The federal government defended the decision and Treasury Board spokeswoman Lisa Murphy said; “This practice is common in certain private industries to indicate excessive indebtedness that may increase temptation to commit unethical acts.”

Bad credit, likely criminal?

But does a history of debt point to a future of crime?

One study found a job applicant with a troubled financial history was almost twice as likely to engage in theft as an applicant who lacked any financial history issues,” said TransUnion Canada spokesperson Clifton O’Neal.

As one of the country’s leading credit-reporting agencies, TransUnion Canada vehemently supports the use of its data when determining a person’s employability – data which they say could save employers from making costly hiring mistakes.

 “The top two red-flag warnings present in these crimes were instances where the individual was living beyond his or her financial means or experiencing financial difficulties,” O’Neal added.

But one Ontario jobseeker who recently had an offer rescinded by TD Insurance says he should not be labelled a thief just because of a poor credit report.

The debt effect

The anonymous jobseeker was offered a conditional insurance advisor position only to have it retracted weeks later when his unfavourable credit report was revealed.

After being out of work since August, he’s fallen behind on some bill payments, has approximately $14,000 in debt plus a mortgage and car loan – but being passed over because of his financial history is only going to create a catch-22 situation, says one expert.

“There’s a certain irony that the people who are most vulnerable and who most require access to jobs could be discriminated against because they have poor credit ratings,” said Murray Rowe Jr., president of credit advisory group, Forrest Green.

“I think it's important we understand that the ramifications of leveraging credit bureau data are quite profound,” he warned.

Data discrimination

The rejected Ontario jobseeker told Huffington Post Canada that the practice felt more like discrimination than savvy candidate screening.

“They rejected me solely based on whatever my credit check came back as,” he said. “It just seems absurd to me. I have no criminal record, no history to suggest I am a bad person, just a credit score reflective of poor economic times. In my opinion, it seems like discrimination.”

It may feel unfair to him but, according to employment lawyer Daniel Chodos, until Ontario’s Human Rights Code explicitly protects discrimination on the basis of economic status, any legal claims from the jilted jobseeker would hold very little weight.

What do you think? Should HR take a candidates credit check into account or is it an unfair assessment of their character? Share your thoughts below.

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  • Daphne on 2015-04-23 1:51:16 PM

    This is discrimination based on percieved criminal behaviour. If I were still working as a Human Rights investigator, I would challenge these employers to prove that credit checks constitute a bona fide occupational requirement.

  • R Menon on 2015-04-23 2:04:58 PM

    Mike Duffy is a good example of an unethical employee with probably a great credit rating. I'm no one saw this criminality coming.

    Labelling people unemployable due to a low credit score is clearly unethical. I understand criminal checks, but credit checks doesn't explain labelling a candidate as a thief or of criminal mentality.

    People could be struggling with debt due to many reasons:
    Loss of job
    Education / student debt
    Some other crisis beyond the person's control

    There has to be a better way than using a credit score to determine criminal tendencies of a candidate.

  • Tammy on 2015-04-23 4:09:43 PM

    I feel that credit checks are a breach of privacy and is an unfair assessment of a persons character. This check has no bearing on how a person performs at the workplace. How is a person going to pay off debts if they are not generating earnings and are having difficulties getting a job when HR professionals are using this information to help decide on a candidate. The fact that the individual is trying to obtain employment indicates the he/she is trying to improve their overall situation.

  • Silvia Mangue on 2015-04-26 4:33:35 PM

    Silvia Mangue,
    And there are better ways to determine candidate honesty and it is called integrity test, personality test and many other tests.
    As mentioned in other posting there are a lot of reasons people can get into debt. As an employer those are the reason you should look at, and if anything you should look at the individual financial records before they got into debt.
    Give people a break, people just want to work and go about with their lives.

  • Lindsay Macintosh on 2015-04-28 3:21:23 AM

    Credit checks should not be used. They invade privacy. There are other ways to determine a candidate's honesty and level of responsibility such as integrity and personality tests. There are a lot of reasons why people go into debt. A lot of people in Canada are in debt. If employers do credit checks then unemployed people who are in debt will find it difficult in finding a job that will help them pay off their debt, and will get into bigger debt due to increasing interest charges and not enough income. Credit checks should be scrapped.

  • Cristina on 2016-02-27 4:14:46 PM

    This discrimination is very real in many sectors, including government. It is extremely dangerous for the whole of society, please read on.

    My story: Gifted child, on and off self supporting at a very young age due to a very volatile upbringing that CAS did nothing about because they thought I was fortunate to have a pool in the backyard. For safety reasons, (illegal guns to be used) the police gave my family a bit of money to leave, all to have the Ontario courts force us back for financial reasons. I gave birth to my son on my 18th birthday, and accepted an offer to attend the law clerk program in the hopes of one day becoming a lawyer when I could afford the added education. Authorities like the CAS attempted to discourage me from completing my education, telling me to accept welfare and stay home with my child. I knew this would have a negative impact on my son, but they insisted that there was housing help through their organisation, that never came. They would show up at my school, interfere with my ability to write exams by showing up at my door unexpected, and closed 2 investigations on me because they were unfounded. The third and final investigation they removed my son from my care after trying to disagree with my sons doctor, and determined that although there was no indication of abuse, neglect, or unhealthy or disorderly living standards, he should live elsewhere because I had qualified for free daycare services which meant I was low income, which automatically made me high risk. They put my son in the same abusive disorderly household without conducting a proper background check (abuse of other children was noted in provincial police files), because they said a childs best interest is determined by family and financial support. I was providing evidence to ridiculous claims while working overnights part time in a diner, undergoing major surgeries, taking the bus, and not receiving anything in the way of child or social support. Custody was never finalized, my son went to his father, who refused to let me see him. I had an order for access to my son, that nobody would enforce unless I paid to go back to court again, after expartays of my file, inadmissible and incorrect heresay evidence was submitted, evidence I provided went missing (court documents from other jurisdictions), coercion, the list goes on. All because I was trying to get an education as a single mother. I was accepted to University law on the recommendations of 2 instructors from the college program. I could not afford to attend.

    I was then cut off of OSAP 3/4 of the way towards completion.

    I was born into a bilingual family. I have since had the surgeries repeated 4 times because I am stuck taking labour positions and have never claimed disability in Ontario. 2 of these surgeries occurred while I was self supporting and attending high school. I have had a hard time getting the benefits during recovery, and am often forced into reinjury as a result of not having access to physiotherapy, private insurance, and personal transportation. I was able to receive disability easily upon leaving the province as recovery can take 6 months to 1 year. Upon doing so I was taken against my will back to Ontario again. I ended up in a new relationship with a man, who I later found out had a violent history of armed robbery and domestic assault, that took my car, everything I worked for, and nearly my life. My son is without his mother, and is told he was abandoned which is not the case. I have attended victims services programs, and remained single, which seems to have a negative impact on employment, despite my lack of drama and proven work ethic.

    I have never filed a bankruptcy, nor do I intend to. With the grace of EI finally allowing me to take advantage of retraining (after being denied while on sickness benefits; maximum 16 weeks), I have now managed to acquire the following education: Business Communication and Administration Certificate, Some Law Clerk coursework, Medical Terminology, First Aid, Swimming/Lifesaving (almost complete), Security Certificate, Investigations Diploma. It should be noted that I completed the security and investigations education while staying at a womans shelter out of town for safety reasons so I could concentrate. I also did this in an extremely condensed time frame. While staying there, I received over 1,500$ in parking tickets, nearly all issued despite having a valid displayed permit. I am still fighting to reopen them, and exposed millions of false tickets across to Toronto. I then was in a car accident where I was nearly t-boned and sped up to minimize damages. There was minor damage to the unattentive drivers front bumper. I took photos, spoke with police and medics, took witness names, and told the vehicle owner who was trying to help me. It should be noted that I have motorcycle safety, and am a very experienced driver. 6 months after the fact they tried to charge me with careless driving, fail to remain, fail to report, and no insurance. I now have to fight in Toronto from Ottawa, and they are breaking all the rules again. The reports and memo notes were denied, so they are basically telling me they can do whatever they want. They will not provide me a lawyer, and my doctor had told me to stop working for a bit, so I borrowed for a paralegal who is well credentialed, and spoke up about the charter infringements, so they decided to start all over again, instead of looking at the very clear and very abundant evidence in front of them. They seem to want me to pay to bring in the 2 officers, 2 medics, 3 witnesses, and pay someone else to take their statements because if I do it's a conflict of interest. Should I do any of this myself, I would be compromising my own witnesses integrity, and have to pay tens of thousands of dollars and face a criminal charge, despite there being no crime committed. Not under the insurance act, not under the criminal code, no provincial offense, and no municipal offense. It is extortion of the poor, and it happens more often than you think.

    I volunteered working with children in athletics, and also did some journalism. I studied health and nutrition on my own time, and try to help people get my liquid vitamins and meal replacements when I can. I drove around anyone who needed it, and helped who I could. I have also gained experience in the insurance industry (multiple lines) but I was only hired because my ex was somewhat well off, and they had some back door deals going on that they presumed I wouldn't pick up on.
    I also have some martial arts experience, an aptitude for languages and technology, and hold no criminal record, nor have I ever. The courts have treated me very unfairly as a result of my financial status to boot. It seems to hold no weight with them that my ancestors were attorney general, solicitor general, chief justice, and top military personnel presumably with the best of intentions and excellent actions that have saved our country.

    Yet somehow despite going through all this I am still having a hard time getting jobs because of my debts, which really aren't even that bad. It's almost as if this is a sick game to ensure that everyone is set as a high risk lender to justify higher interest. I am having a hard time finding legitimate work that doesn't require a credit check, and to be honest some of my alleged debt isn't even mine, it was a family members. To boot, my account was illegally emptied, and I was left on the street with nothing over that one debt that follows me to this day.

    It seems to me that we are living in a world driven by consumerism, that doesn't understand the importance of investment. I am just one story, imagine how many more there are. The issue is much bigger than you think. People are not simply not getting a job because of bad circumstances, they are sometimes being harassed by authorities without due process or good faith. It is a very real and very serious problem. Ottawa police will now be getting a 1.3% kickback on all new infrastructure, after a known problem Chief of police got promoted into politics for the horrible fleet vehicle deal. It looked nice on paper, but they chose this particular vehicle knowing that it would require extensive modifications that I'm sure he and Harper benefitted from. Meanwhile Toronto spends well outside the budget stalking Rob Ford because he wanted to split a condo between the classes and co-op housing. Wynne decides to sell off Hydro (which brings in revenue) and put the money into transportation projects (which benefit police) after being exposed for having other politicians illegally ask people to resign on her behalf.

    As Trump would say, it's how you claim a bankruptcy. Does nobody actually stop and think that it badly devalues currency? Does nobody question how places like Argentina offer free education in order to maintain a certain level of skilled workers? Does anybody realize that they are literally throwing people in jail for being poor, and that this contributes to higher crime rates? It is bad enough that offenders are generally repeat customers and they don't get any real rehab. We sadly live in an American model which is inevitably doomed to fail. This is NOT a question of IF, it is a question of WHEN. If we continue down a road that supports a standard of living, rather than a quality of life, North America will undoubtedly become the worst place to live in the world. The environment destroyed, nuclear waste treated improperly, unqualified professionals that did not earn their credentials on merit and morale, but had enough money to get by, and would set aside their ethics for paycheques.

    It's more than just something bad happening to you and affecting your credit.
    You won't find a job, you won't find peace, and you fall victim to false allegations and micromanaging control freaks, that are completely incapable of handling anything on a case by case basis. It is the fault of statistics to put quantity over quality which is the exact opposite of both survival of the fittest and morale as a whole.

  • Unemployed on 2016-05-30 12:02:23 PM

    There is no tie between the integrity of a person at the workplace and their inability at some point to pay their bills. Of course, reference to the study that proved bad credit are twice as lucky to commit crime came from TransUnion... Biggest crooks of all! And of course, compounding the persons poir credit by not giving them a job is dumbfounding! Then we poor unemployed WILL end up being criminals to feed ourselves... This is a rediculous situation and should not be allowed.

  • Holly Marnie on 2016-07-28 11:37:56 AM

    I am a university graduate of a finance degree who has only worked in the finance industry with 9 years working in finance and management and had great success. Then I had an accident, ended up with a brain injury and chronic pain. During my 2 years of intensive rehabilitation I ended up going through all of my savings as my disability and the government did not approve my claims. Now 7 years later as my savings has been completely depleted, my credit has been drastically affected. I can no longer find any work as my work experience and education requires good credit. I am no thief, I promise! I have been rehabilitated, but due to stats like these and kind and obviously healthy individuals like Daniel Chodos I am a jilted and unimportant job seeker who doesn't deserve to be employed again, It's not my human right.

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