Is a Federal ‘Ban-the-Box’ Order on the Way?

By Roy Maurer Apr 20, 2015
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Nearly 200 worker advocacy groups and labor unions recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging executive action “banning the box” for federal contractors and implementing hiring reforms for ex-offenders.

Ban the box refers to the check box on employment applications asking whether a job candidate has ever been convicted of a crime. Ban-the-box laws require employers to put off asking about a candidate’s criminal history until after an interview has been conducted or a provisional job offer has been extended.

Fourteen states, Washington, D.C., and over 100 cities and counties have passed ban-the-box laws. The majority of these laws apply only to public employers, but blanket ban-the-box laws impacting all sectors are on the rise. Six states—Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island—and twelve localities—Baltimore; Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago; Columbia, Mo.; Montgomery County, Md.; Newark, N.J;, Philadelphia; Prince George’s County, Md.; Rochester, N.Y.; Seattle; San Francisco and Washington, D.C.—have banned the box for private employers as well. Notably, the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, adopted a ban-the-box policy in 2010, and Target removed questions about criminal history from initial job applications in 2014.

According to estimates from the National Employment Law Project, about 70 million people in the United States have a criminal record. “This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers, especially in communities of color hardest hit by decades of overcriminalization,” the letter said.

The White House launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative in 2014, to address “persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.” The program connects young people to mentoring and support networks and strongly endorses hiring reforms in order to “give applicants a fair chance and allow employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they re-enter the workforce.”

The letter to the president stated: “Building on the momentum across the country and the rebounding economy, now is the time to take executive action to open employment opportunities for the growing numbers of Americans who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a record.”

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs directive on criminal background checks already cautions contractors that the consideration of criminal records in hiring or other personnel decisions may have a disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy

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