Should Felons Be Allowed Behind the Wheel of Big Rigs?

July 31, 2013

Trucking companies have long held policies against hiring convicted felons as commercial truck drivers. And with good reason: Investigations of truck hijacking and theft problems many times found that the truck driver was involved in the scheme.

Some fleets have gone to elaborate lengths to prevent theft and hijacking. One trucking company executive who had a contract to haul expensive athletic shoes was experiencing a huge problem with pilferage and hijacking. The fleet went so far as to separate all trailer loads of sneakers to right or left shoes only, then reassembled the shoes into pairs once they reached their destination.

Trucking companies have also gone to great lengths to screen drivers to avoid hiring those with criminal records. Back in the early '80s — before the internet and more sophisticated screening technologies were available — one trucking company had a team screening all the local newspaper police blotters and kept a "Do Not Hire "list of names of anyone even suspected of committing a crime.

Today, screening drivers to keep out the criminal element has grown and most trucking companies have strict policies against hiring anyone with a criminal background, especially those with felony convictions.

And most fleets feel secure they are within their rights to refuse jobs to felons.

That may change, though, with the settlement of a lawsuit against one of the nation's largest motor carriers.

Recently, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., agreed to settle agreed to settle a discrimination case involving an African American man denied work as a driver because of his criminal record, after a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The settlement followed conciliation between the EEOC and J.B. Hunt over claims that an African-American job candidate was denied a truck driver position at a J.B. Hunt facility in San Bernardino, CA, in 2009 based on a criminal conviction record, which the EEOC contends was unrelated to the duties of the job, the EEOC reports.

The EEOC said it also reviewed the company's broader policy with respect to the hiring of job applicants with conviction records. Blanket prohibitions are not in accordance with the agency's policy guidance on the subject, which was reissued on April 25, 2010, EEOC says.

The EEOC's guidance recommends evaluating: the nature and gravity of the offense or conduct; the time that has passed since the conviction and/or completion of the sentence; and the nature of the job sought prior to disqualifying a candidate with such a record.

As part of the five-year conciliation agreement, J.B. Hunt agreed to review, revise if necessary, and provide additional training concerning its hiring and selection policies and practices to comply with the EEOC's guidance. The EEOC will monitor compliance with the conciliation agreement. The alleged victim also entered into a private settlement agreement with J.B. Hunt.

"We commend J.B. Hunt for correcting its policy on criminal convictions and for taking measures toward ensuring equal employment opportunities for all workers," said Olophius Perry, district director of the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office. "Employers should follow J.B. Hunt's lead in reviewing and revising existing arrest and conviction policies so that they comply with federal guidelines."

Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, especially class-based recruitment and hiring practices that discriminate against racial, ethnic and religious groups, older workers, women and people with disabilities, is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

So if you have a policy against hiring anyone with a felony conviction, you might want to consult with a labor law expert to make sure your policy isn't in violation with the EEOC guidance.

The full EEOC guidance is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm

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