Employment credit checks “morally unjust”

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Carrying out credit checks on potential new employees is becoming increasingly popular with Canadian companies but one leading employment lawyer has spoken out against the practice, labelling it “morally unjust.”

“The reality is the individuals with the extremely low credit rating presumably are the ones that are the most vulnerable and they’re the ones that need the job the most so for them to be turned away on that premise – it’s definitely unjust,” said Muneeza Sheikh.

Unethical acts

First used in the financial industry, candidate credit checks have now entered the mainstream job market – even the federal government recently introduced mandatory checks for all public servants – but what purpose do they even have?

Spokeswoman Lisa Murphy defended the fed’s decision and said; “This practice is common in certain private industries to indicate excessive indebtedness that may increase temptation to commit unethical acts.”

Critic Sheikh doesn’t agree – “There’s been a number of studies stating that, actually, there is no correlation between your poor credit and your propensity to behave unethically,” she argued.

In the eyes of the law

The Levvitt & Grossman partner might not agree with the controversial hiring tool from a moral standpoint but she did concede that, legally, there’s nothing wrong with it.

“There’s nothing at law that precludes you from doing the credit check as long as you’ve got the individuals consent,” she confirmed.

In Ontario, guidelines that determine discrimination in a hiring practice are governed by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which identifies protected characteristics such as age, race and gender. As it stands, financial situation is not a protected ground under the code so employers aren’t breaking the law by taking in into account.

“If you had the same employer saying; ‘Well you’ve got to disclose what religion you practice or what your ethnicity is before we go ahead and interview,’ that’s a different story because it’s a protected ground under the code but economic disadvantage isn’t,” explained Sheikh.

Time for change

While the practice may be picking up speed in Canada, other countries are cracking down on it – the U.S. in particular. In April, New York City joined several states – including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Washington – in banning the use of credit checks for employment purposes.

So could something similar soon cross the border? Sheikh says there’s still a long way to go but it’s not entirely unlikely.

“I think there is a lot of dialogue that needs to take place before something like that happens,” she said, before adding; “Do I think that that sort of discussion is going to take place in Ontario? – It’s probably going to happen soon.”

Watch Muneeza Sheikh’s full interview here.

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  • Patricia on 2015-06-09 5:01:25 PM

    A former colleague once told me that just because something is legal doesn't make it right. I have never forgotten those words and am frequently reminded of it in my practice of human resources.

  • Joanne Melanson on 2015-06-10 6:10:19 PM

    I agree with Ms. Sheikh. There is no basis or value to making a credit check a broad-stroke hiring practice. A criminal record check is often necessary as a precaution, for example a financial fraud conviction would not bode well for an employee who has access to money or funds manipulation - that makes sense. We would not hire a known pedophile to work with children. However, there are many reasons that contribute to a less-than-stellar credit situation, often temporary, i.e. divorce, illness, unemployment, identity theft, etc. What about Privacy? Unless a person's credit issues are causing more serious problems that affect their employer, it is nobody's business! Re: Lisa Murphy's comment "Temptation to commit unethical acts" - really? This comment seems to paint everyone as a possible unethical Thief, and says more about her own character than anything else. Also, many gainfully employed people experience life situations or problems that damage their credit (again, usually temporary). Should the employer learn or have access to that information? Would Ms. Murphy suggest we fire them, or deem them 'unemployable' ?

  • Brent MacKinnon on 2015-06-15 3:36:24 PM

    A credit check (history and score) reflects an individual's personal financial management. So unless good financial management skills are a bona fide requirement for the role (such as someone at a bank or someone who handles cash) then there is no point to a credit check for employment. It just becomes unnecessary snooping!

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