‘Ban-the-Box’ Bill for Federal Jobs Reintroduced

Criminal history would be off limits on federal job applications

By Roy Maurer Apr 13, 2017
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Recruiters and hiring managers at federal agencies and at employers that contract with the federal government would be prohibited from asking job applicants about their criminal history until the later stages of the hiring process under newly reintroduced legislation.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers led by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., reintroduced companion bills, titled the Fair Chance Act, April 5 in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The legislation seeks to "ban the box" in federal employment.

Banning the box refers to eliminating the check box asking about criminal history from job applications and holding off from waiting to conduct background screens until later in the hiring process, often after a job offer has been made. Twenty-six states and more than 150 cities and counties nationwide have passed ban-the-box policies, and some marquee employers such as Wal-Mart, Koch Industries, Target, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Bed Bath & Beyond have also implemented the restriction.

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"The barriers faced by incarcerated people when they try to transition back into society are a big part of why our criminal justice system is so broken," Booker said. "Our bill helps to address this challenge by giving those who have paid their dues a second chance by putting jobs in the federal government or with a federal contractor within reach."

The Fair Chance Act would require both the federal government and federal contractors to remove the conviction history question from their job applications and defer any background checks to the end of the hiring process. It includes exceptions for law enforcement and national security jobs, positions requiring access to classified information, and those for which access to criminal history information before the conditional offer stage is required by law.

The Office of Personnel Management last November issued a final rule calling on agencies to stop asking about criminal history in initial hiring, but the Fair Chance Act includes federal contractors and would codify the prohibition into law.  

"We applaud the sponsors of these strong bills for their leadership in forging a bipartisan consensus, which is what it will take for Congress to cross the finish line and enact fair-chance hiring legislation," said Maurice Emsellem, director of the National Employment Law Project's Access and Opportunity Program. "These are federal reforms whose time has come, thanks to the grassroots movement that has taken hold across the states."

Booker's bill was introduced in 2015 and unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, but stalled before reaching the full Senate for a vote.

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