In August of 2013, employers in California City—a San Francisco suburb with 100,000 residents, high crime and high unemployment—lost their right to inquire into the criminal records of job applicants. As of September, legislation in the city prevents private companies with more than nine workers from asking about potential employees’ criminal records if they want to keep their city contracts. While the ordinance is one of the nation’s strictest Ban the Box laws, it’s not at all unusual. In fact, it’s quite possible your city or state may be planning to enact similar rules.
According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocate group that supports the movement, more than 50 cities and counties have already enacted Ban the Box legislation. California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Illinois and Massachusetts have even adopted statewide Ban the Box policies.
Intended to prevent employers from unfairly discriminating against job seekers with prior arrests and convictions, Ban the Box laws typically prohibit the inclusion of questions pertaining to criminal history on job applications. In some states—including Colorado—the legislation requires certain employers (namely state and local governments) from performing an employment background check until they make a conditional offer of employment. While most of the laws apply to public—or government—businesses, a few, including those in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island, have banned the box for private employers as well.
Supporters of the Ban the Box movement say it’s the best way to ensure maximum job opportunities for everyone—not just those with criminal records. By putting an end to discrimination, they claim employers will no longer be able to deprive millions of Americans with past arrests and convictions of the chance to experience economy stability. In addition, those employers will no longer lose out on qualified workers who could make valuable contributions within their industry.
Those against the movement say prohibiting criminal records inquiries early in the pre employment screening process is potentially dangerous for both employers and the public. It may increase an employer’s risk of negligent hiring lawsuits and make it more difficult to identify the best applicant for any available position.
Even if you do not do business within one of the cities or states that have enacted Ban the Box legislation, you must still take care when utilizing criminal records in your pre-employment screening. Before rejecting an applicant, the EEOC urges all employers to consider the nature and severity of the crime in question as well as whether it indicates an inability to perform the duties of the position. Additionally, employers must consider the time that has passed since an arrest or conviction and allow job seekers a chance to explain the circumstances that led to their criminal record.
Remember: employment background checks are valuable hiring tools. Whether you live in a location that prohibits their use until after an interview or conditional job offer, or routinely include them early in your employment screening process, enlisting the assistance of a background check service will provide you with the best results.