Kenyan McDuffie represents Ward 5 on the D.C. Council.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) is the chief author of a bill to prohibit credit checks of potential employees until a conditional offer is made. He introduced the bill, The Fair Credit History Steering Act of 2015 to his colleagues on June 2. McDuffie wants to use the legislation as a vehicle to help more District residents obtain employment.

“This bill will abolish restrictions that unjustly exacerbate challenges faced by applicants who are already having difficulty with finding employment and making ends meet,” McDuffie said. “As a result, we will create economic opportunities for more of our vulnerable residents.”

The Fair Credit bill will prohibit an employer from considering a job applicant’s credit history during the hiring process, and will restrict an employer’s inquiry into an applicant’s credit history until after a conditional offer of employment. The bill would allow certain employers exemptions from enforcement, like financial institutions.

The legislation establishes a complaint process for aggrieved potential employees and a penalties component for alleged employer violators. The D.C. Office of Human Rights would be responsible for enforcing the bill.

According to a May 2013 online article, “Discredited: How Employment Checks Keep Qualified Workers Out of a Job” by Amy Traub,  one in 10 people who are unemployed have been informed that they would not be hired because of negative credit report information. The article, cited by McDuffie in a statement, showed that one in seven denied job applicants were advised that they were not hired because of their credit. The article also showed that people of color and the chronically unemployed are adversely affected when their jobs search depends on creditworthiness.

D.C. Council members Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), LaRuby May (D-Ward 7), Vincent Orange (D-At Large),  Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) have indicated favorable interest in McDuffie’s bill. Todd, who reportedly declared bankruptcy earlier in his life, thinks this bill is needed.

“I strongly believe that past mistakes should not prohibit our residents from attaining future success,” Todd said. “This legislation will provide those with perseverance and discipline an opportunity for a fresh start.”

Doyle Mitchell, the president and CEO of Industrial Bank, one of the country’s largest Black-owned banks, said Industrial conducts credit checks for potential employees. “We would not turn somebody down solely based on poor credit,” Mitchell said. “It is part of the application process because our employees handle large amounts of cash.”

Thomas Penny, the general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Convention Center in downtown Washington, said that as a matter of policy, they don’t conduct credit checks until a conditional offer is made, which is what McDuffie’s bill mandates. “When we do a credit check, it is position-specific,” Penny said. “If a potential employee will be working in the food and beverage area or housekeeping, credit is not as critical as if they are handling cash. We handle these matters on a case-by-case basis.”

Both Mitchell and Penny say they have hired some people with less than perfect credit because they felt that the applicant would be a good, trustworthy employee.

Harry Wingo, the president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said that he and his staff are examining McDuffie’s legislation. “We at the chamber support any effort to remove barriers to employment,” Wingo said. “However, we have to look at hard at any effort to restrict businesses in the operation of their businesses.”

Wingo said that background checks, whether credit or character, are vital for a business to determine the best applicant for a particular job. “We look forward to working with McDuffie on the details of this bill,” he said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said that she hasn’t read McDuffie’s bill but will approach with an open mind. “I am always looking for ways for people to get jobs,” Bowser said. “My ears are always open for that.”