The Employment Opportunity Commission has undertaken an in-depth evaluation of the employment hurdles faced by jobseekers who carry arrest and conviction records.

The federal agency, which regulates equity in hiring procedures, held the first of a series of meetings addressing the issue July 26. The meeting attracted comments from legal and policy experts as well as employers.

The National Employment Law Project submitted comments arguing that the workforce’s widespread dependence on criminal background checks have contributed to high rates of unemployment among Blacks and other workers of color.

“As the use of background checks expands, many employers are routinely excluding all job applicants with criminal records from consideration, no matter how minor or dated their offenses,” Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director for the group, said in a statement. “Background checks are meant to ensure a safe work environment, but many employers have gone way too far, shutting out highly qualified candidates without even bothering to ask common-sense questions: What was the conviction for? How long ago was it? Is it even relevant to this job? What’s the person done with his or her life since?”

Employers have been required to take those factors into consideration by EEOC guidelines since 1987.

Advocates said hiring workers with previous records could lower crime rates and improve job availability. But some legal leaders countered that employers cannot risk hiring personnel with prior arrests or convictions during such a weak economy.

“I am not sure that even the EEOC has hired a person with a criminal record,” Attorney Lester Rosen, CEO of Employment Screening Resources said, according to his Web site. “When you are not actually running a business, or meeting payroll, it is easy to become a Monday morning quarterback and try to shift the solution to social ills on employers already stressed by a recession.”

Other employers argued that there are “confusing and often contradictory pressures” and laws for businesses to consider when researching a potential employee’s criminal record.

Approximately 40 percent more employers use background checks today than did in 1996, according to a Society for Human Resources Management survey conducted in 2010.

“Millions of Americans are having these old or minor arrests or convictions come back to haunt them, years later, after they’ve already made amends and moved on with their lives,” said Emsellem.