Filing a Criminal Background Check Complaint

Employers are prohibited from seeking criminal background information of applicants prior to a conditional offer of employment, unless an exception exists for the position applied for.

Criminal background information includes whether an applicant has been arrested, charged with, or convicted of any crime. Unless an exception for the position exists, an employer may not inquire, question, or otherwise seek this information in the hiring process until after a conditional offer of employment is made – this includes on its application, pre-interview screening, questions during the interview and post-interview screening.

If you feel that an employer is unlawfully seeking criminal background information on their employment applications, or that you have been otherwise aggrieved in applying for employment under this ordinance, then you may file a complaint with the City of Columbia Human Rights Commission.

Criminal background checks are prohibited under Article V of Chapter 12 of the City of Columbia Code of Ordinances.

Chapter 12, Section 12-94, provides the following penalties for violation of the discriminatory practices outlined in Chapter 12, Article V of the Code of Ordinances:

Any person who shall violate any provision of this article shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000.00), or imprisonment not exceeding thirty (30) days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The exceptions for employment positions from this ordinance are provided in Section 12-90(b). The ordinance does not apply to positions where:

  1. Employers are required to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions from employment due to local, state or federal law or regulation;
  2. A standard fidelity bond or an equivalent bond is required and an applicant’s conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining such a bond; in which case, an employer may include a question or otherwise inquire whether the applicant has ever been convicted of any of those offenses; or
  3. Employers employ individuals licensed under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act.

This ordinance encourages employers to not automatically screen jobseekers with a criminal history. It does not prohibit employers from making final employment-related decisions based on all the information available to them: including consideration of the frequency, recentness and severity of a criminal record as well as rehabilitation efforts against the duties and responsibilities of the position.