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New EEOC guidance on arrest records and hiring decisions

Working with communities on their rights to accessing jobs

· Englewood,Social Determinants,Community Psychology

Access to a livable wage is a critical determinant of physical and mental health. One of my 1st projects at Adler was working on an analysis of employment policy and impact on mental health in Englewood. Here is a review of the project, as originally published on The Socially Responsible Practitioner blog.

After more than 20 years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) this spring revised its policy guidance on employers’ use of arrest records in making hiring decisions. The announcement received a great deal of media attention.

In communities like Chicago’s underserved Englewood community, a significant number of residents are arrested in police sweeps but ultimately neither charged nor convicted of crimes. Nonetheless, in violation of EEOC guidance, employers often do not hire residents based upon these arrest records.

Are residents of communities like Englewood aware of the new federal policy guidance and their rights?

Not necessarily. “Englewood residents reported to us that they were largely unaware of their rights regarding how their arrest records are used by employers,” says the Adler School’s Tiffany McDowell, Ph.D., M.F.T., Program Manager and Research Associate for the Institute on Social Exclusion.

ISE faculty, staff and project teams have worked closely with Englewood residents and community organizations for more than six years on a range of efforts, from the ongoing Gun Violence Prevention Program to the current Mental Health Impact Assessment project.

For more than a year, the ISE and its MHIA team, including Englewood community leaders, have examined the EEOC policy guidance and the projected impact on an entire community’s mental health when employers uses arrest records in making employment decisions about members of that community.

After the EEOC announced its policy guidance change in April, ISE along with Teamwork Englewood, the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), and the Safer Foundation organized open houses at Kennedy King College to spread the news.

At the open houses June 19 and June 29, speakers including Asiaha Butler from RAGE, Juandalyn Holland from Teamwork Englewood, Todd Belcore from Shriver Poverty Law Center, and Anthony Lower from Safer Foundation discussed the changes with more than 140 Englewood residents.

They also discussed the rights that previously arrested or incarcerated individuals hold, and how those individuals can advocate for themselves and obtain free legal assistance if they feel they have been discriminated against based on their arrest records.

“These open houses were designed to increase awareness of the EEOC’s new policy guidance.” McDowell says. At the same time, they oriented residents on how to talk about arrest records with possible employers, as well as gain employment and understand individual rights. They also served as a means of networking and the chance to interact with possible employers, she says.

The open houses were the latest steps in the MHIA project pioneered by the Adler School’s ISE, which has attracted interest from policymakers, academicians and health impact assessment (HIA) professionals around the world.