United States: Restricting Employers' Use Of Credit Checks And Why Mr. Robot Agrees

Last Updated: September 7 2015
Article by David S. Kim

If you're like me, you don't necessarily equate the USA network with riveting and innovative television. While the network has respectable ratings, I can't help but tune out when I see a commercial for Suits, Graceland or Royal Pains (apologies to those fans of the show—I believe you, I'm sure they're good). In fact, although many have noted the increase in quality TV programming, accolades have been reserved for those such as HBO, AMC, and Netflix, which have pushed the limits of what a television show could be in our collective minds, while simultaneously providing entertaining and complex stories. Now, it appears USA has decided to the join the party. USA's Mr. Robot is fast becoming one of my favorite shows, and as evidenced by the widespread critical and popular acclaim it has received, it is clear I'm not the only one (97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes if you're into that sort of thing).

Mr. Robot revolves around Eliot Alderson, a brilliant yet flawed individual. Eliot works as a security engineer at Allsafe, a cybersecurity company. However, Eliot also is incredibly adept at hacking (social media accounts, bank records, personal information, etc.) and uses those skills to not only learn about people, but often to act as a cyber-vigilante by protecting those he cares about or reporting bad people anonymously to the authorities. It is not surprising this is the only way Eliot can connect as he struggles mightily with social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, paranoia, and delusion.

Eliot despises "E Corp" (who he refers to as Evil Corp.), a global conglomerate with its hands in seemingly everything. E Corp. also happens to be Allsafe's biggest client. While there are a multitude of characters and storylines, the main storyline in season 1 revolves around a mysterious man who Eliot dubs "Mr. Robot" (due to a shirt the man wears bearing that moniker), played by Christian Slater (yes, that Christian Slater). Mr. Robot is the leader of a hacker group called "fsociety," has been observing Eliot, and wants to recruit him to the team.

Their first mission—to destroy and delete all of E Corp's debt records. According to Mr. Robot, E Corp. owns 70 percent of consumer debt, and by erasing all debts and mortgages, it could create "the single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history." With Eliot's disgust of E Corp. fairly evident, it's no surprise that his interest is piqued. Let's just say there are a lot of twists and turns from there.

To be fair, Mr. Robot's thematic elements are likely to be geared more to the introspective and existential as the series progresses. Yet, while the concept of eliminating debt isn't new (remember Fight Club), there is a focus in season one on putting everyone on equal footing and out from under the hand of the controlling majority. Debt forces people to continue working the same undesirable job, to be a spoke in the financial wheel that favors the wealthy, and causes them to eventually "die in debt doing things they never wanted to do."

In our world, certain legislators feel that debt even precludes the attainment of employment to begin with. Just last week, the New York City Council passed the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act, which amends the NYC Human Rights Law to prohibit most employers from making employment decisions based upon an employee's or applicant's consumer credit history. Credit reports permit employers access to an individual's financial history, including credit use, bankruptcy, and credit inquiries.

Proponents of the NYC law have stated that an employer's ability to utilize credit reports in making employment decisions disadvantaged minorities, low-income workers, and victims of domestic violence and had no real correlation to job performance. As with any law, numerous exceptions exist. For example, with respect to positions related to law enforcement, positions where the individual is required by law to be personally bonded and positions with signatory authority over third party funds/assets valued over a certain amount, amongst others, can still require credit reports.

It is expected that the bill passed by the council will be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio into law, and will then take effect 120 days after enactment. At that time, NYC will join a growing number of jurisdictions, including but not limited to California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, that restrict an employer's right to obtain or use an individual's credit information in making employment decisions. However, NYC's bill is considered one of the broadest in the country as it does not include a broad exemption for all positions handling money.

Employers are reminded to review their local and state laws with respect to the use of credit checks before performing such checks on certain applicants and employees. Failure to do so could cause employers to be subject to a variety of damages under the applicable laws. While there still remains a question as to whether Mr. Robot and his gang of hackers will be successful in their attempt to eliminate debt from the equation, unfortunately for most of us in this world debt still exists. And unfortunately for employers, the existence of debt doesn't mean you necessarily are permitted access to it.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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