A movement that aims to eliminate the use of questions about criminal records on job applications is rapidly sweeping the nation. Officially known as the “Ban the Box” campaign, proponents of the movement claim it will help to end discrimination in the workplace by prohibiting the rejection of job candidates solely due to their criminal history. According to the Center for American Progress, the U.S. legal system continues to disproportionately arrest and incarcerate people of color.
A significant number of jobseekers stand to benefit from regulations spurred by the Ban the Box movement. A 2011 National Employment Law Project study found that 27.8 percent of U.S. adults had some type of criminal record. That’s 64.4 million individuals with an arrest or conviction on file. Because 87 percent of employers use criminal background check services when conducting pre-employment screening according to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, they may reject suitable applicants for minor convictions in their past, convictions with no bearing on the job at hand, or even arrests that did not lead to convictions.
Fortunately, for jobseekers, more than 45 cities and counties have prohibited the inclusion of conviction history questions on employment applications according to bantheboxcampaign.org. These include major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle. Seven states have required public employers to change their hiring practices in response to the Ban the Box movement as well. These include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico. Statewide Ban the Box laws applying to private employers are present in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island—though some are yet to take effect.
In many areas, private employers are voluntarily supporting the Ban the Box movement with their own elimination of criminal records questions. This may be due, at least in part, to new guidelines issued by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission last year. While the commission did not prohibit the use of criminal background checks for employment screening purposes, they did urge employers to consider several factors before rejecting a candidate with a record, namely, the type of crime committed, how that crime relates to the job in question, and how much time has passed since the applicant’s conviction.
Whether you’re a public or private employer, you may find the Ban the Box movement disconcerting. However, legislation related to it does not prevent you from running employment background checks on job candidates, nor does it require you to hire applicants with criminal records. In most cases, it merely prohibits such enquiry during the initial application or before the interview stage of the hiring process.