Or, States That Don't Suck For Employees, Part VI
You may have heard the term “ban the box” but not know what it means. These laws generally prevent employers from asking about applicant arrests or convictions at the beginning of the application process, and only allow inquiries after the applicant passes their initial screening. Why? Because about 70 million Americans have some criminal record, and the majority of them are minorities. An entire class of citizens has been made almost completely unemployable due to criminal records that have nothing to do with their ability to do jobs.
Thirteen states, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, along with 67 cities and counties, have passed ban-the-box laws. Tampa and Jacksonville are just some of those cities. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have the only statewide laws applying to private employers. The rest apply to government employers.
Hawaii’s law was the first, and it prohibits employers from asking about criminal records until a conditional offer of employment is made (similar to what ADA requires for inquiries about disabilities). Since 1998, when this law went into effect, the incidence of repeat criminal offenses in Hawaii has dropped by 57%. Illinois law is similar to Hawaii’s.
New York’s law says employers can’t discriminate in the hiring process against applicants who have convications unless there’s a direct relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the employment sought, or if the employment would involve an unreasonable risk to others.
New Jerseys’s brand new law prohibits posting of ads saying those with criminal histories won’t be hired and from asking about arrests and convictions until the applicant is the top candidate selected. Then the employer must also consider factors like rehabilitation, good conduct, length of time that has passed, and how the crime relates to the employee’s suitability for the job.
Massachusetts’ law bans questions on written applications but not in interviews. If employers are going to refuse to hire based on a criminal record, they must first provide the applicant with a copy of the record.
Minnesota’s law is similar to Hawaii’s, but state law there also says government employers can’t discriminate unless the conviction is directly related to the job sought. It requires all employers to consider job-related factors in using criminal records.
Rhode Island’s law prohibits asking on written applications but employers can ask during interviews.
The ban-the-box movement is all about giving folks a fair chance. If they’ve done the time, let them get on with their lives. Americans usually like to give people a fair second chance, so let’s do that for the 70 million Americans who have criminal records. If we’re like Hawaii, letting people with records get paying jobs will drastically reduce repeat criminal offenses.