‘Ban the Box’ Movement Is Gaining Traction

By Lee Jaspar

San Francisco Board of Supervisors approves a resolution initiated by All of Us or None calling for San Francisco to eliminate hiring discrimination against people with criminal records

Numerous cities and counties have improved the chances for persons with criminal histories to get jobs, the National Employment Law Project reports.

Known as “Ban the Box,” the reform prohibits asking about criminal records in the initial job application.

The project report estimated that 65 million Americans – or one in four adults – had a criminal history as of 2011.

The report also shows that the background check industry has grown with access to the Internet at the same time that the numbers of workers with criminal records has risen.

“Implementing this new policy won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do…We cannot ask private employers to consider hiring former prisoners unless the city practices what it preaches,” said then-Mayor Richard Daley when he announced Chicago’s policy banning the box.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a revised guidance in April 2012 on the use of arrest and conviction records in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The commission recommended as a “best practice…that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquiries, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.”

Some 66 jurisdictions, including Chicago, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Memphis and Baltimore, were highlighted in the report as locations that have adopted Ban the Box.

“Just in the first three months of 2014, 11 cities and counties across the nation have adopted these policies emphasizing an applicant’s qualifications rather than his or her past mistakes,” the report said.

The momentum in support of Ban the Box hiring reforms continues to grow. In the report, the campaign to Ban the Box on San Francisco’s application for public employment was led by “All of Us or None,” a national organizing initiative of formerly incarcerated people.

“We cannot ask private employers to consider hiring former prisoners unless the city practices what it preaches”

“In 2005, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution initiated by All of Us or None calling for San Francisco to eliminate hiring discrimination against people with criminal records by removing the request for criminal history information on the initial job application for public employment,” the report said.

“An individual’s past convictions can only be considered after an applicant has been identified as a finalist for a position. The exception is for those jobs where state or local laws expressly bar people with convictions from employment, in which case the city conducts its background review at an earlier stage of the hiring process.”

Similar policies have been adopted in other Northern California cities such as East Palo Alto, Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland.

Oakland, working with All of Us or None, adopted the policy in 2010, per the NELP report.

The report stated, “The city conducts background checks on applicants after a conditional offer, but only for those positions required by law or the city has made a ‘good faith determination’ that the position warrants it. The city also notifies the applicant of the potential adverse employment action, provides a copy of the background report and provides the applicant an opportunity to rebut the accuracy or relevancy of the background report.”

Richmond’s new ordinance, according to the report, prohibits inquiry into an applicant’s criminal history at any time unless state or federal law requires a background investigation or the position has been defined as “sensitive.”

San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim wants to make this question, “Have you been convicted of a crime?” virtually obsolete on job applications in the city, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Dec. 10, 2013.

A Sacramento Bee headline on June 27, 2012 read: “A Job is Best Crime Prevention Program.” The Bee article said, “The job hunt is tough for everybody these days. But imagine having a criminal record. Many employers, including cities and counties, won’t consider hiring someone with a criminal past, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, how minor the offense might have been or how thoroughly the applicant has turned his life around.”

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