On February 16, 2017, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Fair Credit in Employment Amendment Act of 2016 (the “Act”), which amends the DC Human Rights Act of 1977 to prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and applicants based on their credit information. The Act will now be submitted for congressional review, and will take effect after 30 legislative days unless overturned by Congress during that time.
Once the Act goes into effect, DC employers will no longer be permitted to “require, request, suggest, or cause” any employee, prospective employee, or job applicant to submit credit information, or “use, accept, refer to, or inquire into” any covered individual’s credit information. “Credit information” is defined broadly to include “any written, oral, or other communication of information bearing on an employee’s creditworthiness, credit standing, credit capacity, or credit history.” As such, the Act’s prohibition on credit inquiries applies to formal credit checks, credit-related questions in job interviews or on application forms, and any other method of inquiry that is intended to gather credit information.
The Act does contain several limited exemptions, including the following circumstances in which employers may continue to request credit information:
- Where the employer is otherwise required to request or use an individual’s credit information under DC law;
- Where an employee is applying for a position as, or is employed as, a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, a special police officer, a campus police officer, or any other position with a law enforcement function;
- Where an employee is required to possess a security clearance under DC law;
- Where an employee is applying for, or is employed in, a position with a financial institution and the position involves access to personal financial information; or
- Where an employer requests or receives credit information pursuant to a lawful subpoena, court order, or law enforcement investigation.
The DC Office of Human Rights will investigate alleged violations of the Act, which will be adjudicated in hearings before the Commission on Human Rights. If the Commission finds that a violation of the Act has occurred, the employer will be required to pay the complainant a fine totaling $1,000 for the first violation, $2,500 for a second violation, and $5,000 for any subsequent violations.
Accordingly, DC employers that use credit checks as part of their application process or in any other aspect of employment should begin the process of reviewing their employment applications and other relevant policies and practices and revising them as necessary to ensure compliance with the Act. Employers should also train managers and other employees involved in the hiring or interview process on the requirements of the Act and prohibitions against credit inquiries.