Report Makes Case for Federal Ban the Box Initiative

Ban the Box Blogs

 Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

A January 2015 report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) – ‘Advancing a Federal Fair Chance Hiring Agenda: Background Check Reforms in Over 100 Cities, Counties & States Pave the Way for Presidential Action’ – makes the case for a federal Ban the Box initiative to ensure federal agencies and federal contractors create job opportunities for qualified people with criminal records. The report is available for download at http://www.nelp.org/page/content/Federal-Fair-Chance-Hiring-Agenda/.

According to the report from NELP – a research and advocacy group for low-wage and unemployed workers – almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will be found during a criminal background check. This can create a serious barrier to employment for millions of otherwise qualified workers. Ban the Box legislation seeks to remove the box job applicants are asked to check on applications if they have a criminal record and delay the question until later in the hiring process.

“Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. King challenged our nation to recognize that ‘now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality,’” Maurice Emsellem, director of NELP’s Access and Opportunity Program and co-author of the report, stated in a press release. “Without opening up employment opportunities for the large numbers of Americans who have been unfairly locked out of the job market because of a conviction, the nation will never realize the promise of economic opportunity.”

Ban the Box legislation is spreading across the country. NELP reports that more than 100 jurisdictions – including 13 states, the District of Columbia, and 96 cities and counties – have adopted Ban the Box and other fair chance hiring reforms. In addition, several major corporations have embraced the Ban the Box movement including Walmart, Target, and Home Depot. NELP included two charts in the report showing all the cities, counties, and states with Ban the Box policies and also how rapidly Ban the Box is growing.

The first chart shows that major U.S. cities with Ban the Box laws include: Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Philadelphia, PA; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Tampa, FL; and Washington, DC. Thirteen states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island – also have adopted Ban the Box legislation.

The second chart reveals that the Ban the Box movement has grown the most in the past few years. The first Ban the Box law was passed in Hawaii in 1998. After several years of slow but steady growth beginning in 2005, the Ban the Box movement took off with 15 new jurisdictions added in 2012, 20 jurisdictions added in 2013, and a whopping 42 jurisdictions added in 2014. More information about the Ban the Box movement is available from NELP at http://www.nelp.org/page/content/banthebox/.

This NELP report concludes by making the case for a federal fair-chance-hiring administrative initiative – including an Executive Order and Presidential Memorandum – that ensures that both federal agencies and federal contractors adopt Ban the Box policies to create job opportunities for qualified people with criminal records. The NELP report also identifies bipartisan legislation – REDEEM Act (S. 2567) – that would significantly advance employment opportunities for people with criminal records.

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) has been a longtime supporter and advocate of the Ban the Box movement and ESR founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen selected Ban the Box as the number one trend on the ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends for 2015. However, Rosen – author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ – warned that well-intentioned Ban the Box laws that go too far in restricting criminal background checks may actually hurt ex-offenders and the unemployed in the job market by encouraging employers to use an uninterrupted employment history as the new barometer for reducing risk in hiring.

Rosen uses the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance (FCO) that took effect on August 13, 2014 as an example: “This Ban the Box ordinance prohibits employers in the City and County of San Francisco with 20 or more employees from considering a conviction older than seven years.  Why this is critical is that San Francisco defines the seven year period as starting from the date of sentencing. As a result, the look back period is seven years even if a person has been in custody during those seven years,” says Rosen.

“This is critical is because a person could be convicted seven years and one day ago for a serious offense and then the day after he or she gets out of custody an employer would not be legally able to consider such an offense,” Rosen explains. “A person convicted of a violent sexual offense could apply to work in a woman’s shelter or child care center the day after he or she is released from prison and an employer could not legally inquire about, discover, or use the offense to protect a population at risk.”

More Ban the Box Information from ESR

Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – ‘The Background Check Authority®’ – offers a Ban the Box Information Page with links to news and resources about the Ban the Box movement. ESR founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen also presented a webinar “Ban the Box – What Employers Need to Know” to show how Ban the Box laws are fast becoming a national standard that will soon affect all employers. To view a recording, please visit https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/430445970585554945.