A growing list of state and local governments are passing laws or adopting policies that prevent employers from asking about a candidate’s criminal history on a job application.
The movement, widely known as “Ban the Box,” is drawing praise from civil rights organizations while raising questions among some in the business community who fear the laws could have negative unintended consequences. It’s likely to have implications for human resources (HR) professionals.
“Ban the Box” refers to the check box on many applications that asks candidates whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. Although ban-the-box laws differ among states and municipalities, most require hiring managers to delay asking about a candidate’s criminal background until the interview stage or until a provisional job offer has been extended, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
More than 60 cities and counties, and 13 states have enacted ban-the-box policies, according to a September 2014 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). New Jersey joined that group in August 2014 when Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that bars public and private employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until the first interview is complete. The law will take effect in March 2015 and applies to most employers with 15 or more workers.
“This is a state that believes that every life is precious and that no life is beyond salvation, that everyone deserves a second chance in New Jersey, if they’ve made a mistake,” Christie said. “So, today, we are banning the box and ending employment discrimination.”
Efforts are also under way to pass ban-the-box laws in Texas, Ohio, Georgia and Nebraska, as well as in the cities of Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, Bloomberg BNA reported.
Some ban-the-box laws apply only to public agencies and others only to private companies, although six states prohibit the practice by both types of employers. Many ban-the-box laws also exempt certain businesses or positions, such as those that deal with children or other vulnerable populations.
Minnesota enacted a ban-the-box law for public employers in 2009 and recently expanded the legislation to cover private companies. Beginning in 2015, businesses or agencies with more than 10 employees could face fines of up to $500 for each violation of the law, according to the state’s Department of Human Rights. Smaller employers could face a $100 fine.
Civil rights groups and organizations such as the NELP have pressed for ban-the-box laws. NELP reports that 70 million American adults have arrest or criminal records and roughly 700,000 inmates return to communities each year following release from jail or prison.
Some industry groups, however, say the laws could expose businesses to lawsuits.
“Most of the proposals we’ve seen make it easier for employers to be sued on the basis of some discriminatory action if they refuse to hire people with a felony record,” Jack Mozloom, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business, told Bloomberg BNA. “That’s an enormous danger for small business owners.”