Ban the Box … New Laws Help Job Applicants With Criminal Histories Get Hired

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Getting a job when you have a criminal history is challenging. For many, they never get past the criminal history check box on the application.

For several years now, momentum has been growing for the international “Ban the Box” campaign. This movement hopes to remove the criminal background question on job applications. Additionally, in some cases, it restricts employers from asking job applicants about conviction history and can delay background checks until later in the hiring process.

The latest figures reported by and show that fair chance ordinances (one of several names) have been adopted by 150 U.S. cities and counties in 24 states, including Baltimore; Buffalo, NY; Chicago; Columbia, MO; Portland; and San Francisco. Laws vary with some applying to public or government jobs only. Others include private businesses or businesses having more than a specified number of employees. Policies also vary on the scope—some restricting or specifically outlining an employer’s ability to consider certain types of criminal history at all.

The rationale behind the movement is that “as an employer, you should at least consider the person’s qualifications. Later on, the employer can inquire into factors such as convictions and make a more informed choice at that point,” reports

Applicants may easily explain minor convictions from their youth if given the chance. But when an employment application has a criminal history check box, checking that box may mean they never get a chance to explain.

The benefit to applicants with criminal records is clear. But critics have several common complaints about the movement:

  • As the movement spreads, there is no uniform law. From city to city or state to state, no two policies are the same. So, if a company operates in multiple states, policies of each location have to be considered.
  • There is concern about safety and security—and accompanying liability. Employers are under pressure to keep existing employees and customers safe. If an employer fails to investigate a new hire’s past and the person harms another worker, the employer can be held liable.
  • Incomplete information on the front end. Resources are spent interviewing and following up with candidates who will ultimately not be hired once background checks are completed.

If your state, city or county has a version of the ban-the-box ordinance, you’ll want to review it closely, according to Because of the many variations, watch for the following hidden factors:

  • Type of employer: Policies could apply to either public employers and/or private businesses and include or not include independent contractors
  • Factors of the crime and its relation to the job itself: There may be language that serves to test both the nature of the offense itself as well as its relevance to the job sought
  • Limitations on specific types of criminal records: In some cases, employers may not consider the criminal history at all
  • Applicant may need to be notified: Some ordinances require employers to notify an applicant when criminal information is being used (or was used when making the decision not to hire)

Right to Work, Equal Employment for All, Fair Chance or Ban the Box—the movement to limit the use of job applicants’ criminal histories is spreading. Job seekers with convictions that happened when they were young are now being given a better opportunity for employment. And employers must pay close attention to what’s happening in their areas, adjusting hiring practices to stay within the emerging new legislation.

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