Originally created 01/18/98

Bill could force checks of records



COLUMBIA -- Employers could ask workers for a criminal background check -- at the employees' expense -- if a new bill filed in the Senate becomes law.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said in the bill stems from recent workplace killings and crimes. For example, two workers were arrested in connection with robberies and deaths of restaurant managers since July in Columbia.

Under Mr. Jackson's bill, any employer could require any current or prospective worker to provide, at the worker's expense, a criminal background record from the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"My God, that's not a good thing," said Herbert Louthian, a Columbia labor attorney. "I don't think it's right to put that burden on someone who is seeking work. The burden is on the employer, not on the employee."

Hearings in the coming weeks will change the proposed law's wording, Mr. Jackson said.

But the legislation would need major modification to meet Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, Rhett Miller, chief executive of the Employers Association of South Carolina, said.

"I can certainly understand where he is coming from," Mr. Miller said.

However, he said criminal records contain arrest information, which the EEOC discourages employers from using as the principal way of filling a job.

The EEOC guidelines say criminal records could have a disparate impact on minorities.

Mr. Louthian said the criminal records present other problems. For example, even arrests and warrants for a bad check show up in the records, he said.

"We're trying to get people employed rather than keeping them from being employed," he said.

Mr. Miller said most employers already ask about past conviction on employment applications. After that, it should be up to the employer to conduct a background check, Mr. Louthian said.