One of the myriad laws that went into effect here in Illinois on New Year’s Day “forbids employers from inquiring about an applicant or employee’s credit history or obtaining a copy of their credit report” in an ostensible effort to prevent employers “from discriminating based on a job seeker or employee’s credit history.” Some exceptions are made for certain environments – banks, financial institutions, etc. – but by and large you just can’t do it anymore.
As I see it, this – like countless other squishy squashy HR matters – is another which very simply can’t be subjected to an “either/or” proposition. Nothing in the business of HR is finite enough to take that tack. On one hand, an employee’s ability to pay their credit cards on time might not be entirely indicative of their ability to show up to work on time. On the other hand, it might just be. That’s a simple example, but the point is that a hiring decision – any employment decision, for that matter – is complex, dynamic, and based on a bunch of facts, context, perspective and even assumptions which must all be pulled together to create one (substantially) complete picture. The more we know about someone, the more complete that picture is. Good HR pros use credit checks to help paint the picture. Good HR pros understand “a job seeker’s ability to earn a decent living should not depend on how well they are weathering the greatest economic recession since the 1930s.” But they also understand how to differentiate those who fit this profile from those who are perpetually irresponsible in managing their commitments and obligations. But above all, good HR pros don’t use any one data point as a case-in-point determinant in employment decisions. If we did…or if we could…we’d all be out of a job.
Unfortunately, most employers just aren’t smart enough and generally don’t have the integrity to responsibly delve into their employees’ lives. And as a result, State Legislatures are forced to give us these Idiot Acts. Now we’re all limited – even the best of us – in our ability to make meaningful decisions because dumb-ass employers:
- Don’t listen to HR’s sound counsel and advice,
- Don’t use HR to actually analyze ALL of the data points in order to offer sound counsel and advice,
- Can’t trust HR to offer sound counsel and advice because those departments are under staffed and under qualified, or
- Don’t have a real HR department…period.
What’s the fix? I can tell you it’s not about spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer hard-earned jack to fund meaningless legislation. How about holding companies accountable for not having or not using qualified HR professionals to protect them from making stupid employment decisions?! How about educating employers on the value of staffing their ranks with smart people who are trained and well-prepared for exactly these kinds of things?! Imposing yet another rule on an Idiot just means they have yet another rule to disregard. Employers will always find a way to do stupid things as long as they don’t have someone they can trust, respect, and rely upon to keep them on the straight and narrow. And if I had to place my bets on who better to do that – HR or the State – I’d go with the former any day of the week.
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