Category Archives: Smart Business Practices

Are Job Applicant Criminal Background Checks Legal?

Does your small business conduct criminal background checks on job applicants? If so, a recent settlement agreement between Pepsi Beverages and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) illustrates the legal dangers you may run into if you don’t use such background checks carefully.

According to reports of the settlement, Pepsi ran background checks on job applicants and refused to hire individuals with arrest records (but no convictions) and individuals convicted of minor offenses, as well as those convicted of more serious crimes. The EEOC determined that Pepsi’s policy disproportionately affected African Americans and that more than 300 African Americans who might have received job offers from the company were excluded.

To settle the EEOC’s charges against it, Pepsi paid a $3.1 million fine. The company also agreed to revise its criminal background check policy and offer jobs to qualified applicants who were previously excluded under its former policy.

The Pepsi settlement highlights the legal minefield that your small business can inadvertently wander into if it runs criminal background checks on prospective employees. Under federal law, hiring policies that could have a disproportionate impact on minorities or other protected groups may be illegal, even if you do not intend to discriminate against anyone.

According to the EEOC, an arrest record, without a resulting conviction, is not a useful hiring tool because everyone—including a prospective employee—is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Further, excluding applicants convicted of minor crimes, particularly if the incident occurred years ago and is not related to the particular job at issue, may be deemed irrelevant to the hiring process.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your company to be staffed by honest and trustworthy individuals, and used correctly, criminal background checks can help you weed out individuals who might genuinely present a problem in the workplace. However, if you do run criminal background checks on prospective employees, you should avoid using the background checks to make blanket hiring decisions.

Instead, evaluate each prospective employee’s record on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration whether the offense is related to the position at issue. In addition, consider giving the applicant the opportunity to explain or dispute any arrest or conviction information you discover. Taking steps like these will help ensure that your criminal background checks continue to be a useful hiring tool, without running afoul of the law.

By: Guest blogger Steven Koprince, an attorney with Petefish, Immel, Heeb & Hird, LLP in Lawrence, KS. Mr. Koprince’s practice emphasizes government contracts and small business law.

QR Codes- A Powerful New Marketing Tool

Are you familiar with QR codes? If you’re a small business owner, you should be. QR codes are on their way to becoming the latest rage in new technology for small businesses– and with good reason. QR codes (aka Quick Response codes) are two dimension bar codes that can be scanned by smartphone cameras to link the user to videos, text, and online resources. A business can use the QR code on printed material to instantly link to information about a product, its business, or anything else.

One advantage is how specific and targeted the information in the link can be. For example, you could put a bar code on specific products you sell that links the reader to product reviews or instructions on how to use the product. Or, you could put a bar code on receipts or flyers or in your store window that links to updated information on upcoming store sales or special deals or new products you want to advertise. The possibilities are endless and consumers and businesses in the US are just starting to take advantage of this incredible tool. QR codes are widely used in Japan (where they were first developed) and in Europe. Check the Internet for information on how to get started with a QR code and other ideas for uses. Kawya is one of the more popular sites for creating a QR code.

Vacations and Exercise: Keys to Success?

What does it take to build a successful small business? If we knew, we’d all be millionaires, but two things to add to the mix may be surprising to you: time off and exercise.

Taking time off when starting up a business may be counter-intuitive, but according to an article in the Wall Street Journal (“Time Off Is No Option: It’s Required,” by Sarah E. Needleman), time off is essential to avoid burnout and jumpstart creativity. One entrepreneur interviewed for the article describes how, in the day-to-day grind of building his business, he feels like he’s “constantly looking at trees and never seeing the forest.” (Sound familiar?) Vacations offer him a “mile-high perspective” over his business that he can’t get when his head is buried in his laptop.

Can’t afford to take off a week? Go away for a three-day weekend. Or tack on a day or two after a business trip to see sights and visit friends. It might also help to think of vacations as networking opportunities. And remember, with a smartphone or laptop and a wireless connection, you can easily keep tabs on your business while away.

Exercise is the cure-all for many ills: it helps you lose weight, prevents disease, and aids in getting a good night’s sleep. And, according to blogger Derek Flanzraich, it can also help your small business succeed. How? By boosting your energy level, sharpening your focus, and helping you come up with better ideas—all things an entrepreneur needs and could use more of. (Need help on starting up an exercise regimen? Derek’s got you covered. Read the comments for some interesting real-life tips from readers.)