Wal-Mart has announced plans to start screening new American employees if they have a criminal record, according to reports.

The new policy has been adopted as an attempt to avoid potential lawsuits from customers accusing its employees of sexual assault.

The background checks will start next month. The decision follows an incident whereby the retailer was sued after one of its employees allegedly fondled a young girl in a store in South Carolina.

In 2000 an employee was convicted for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. Both of the accused had criminal convictions for sexually related offences.