The purpose of ‘Ban the Box’ laws is to provide better employment opportunities for those with an arrest or conviction. Approximately 25% of adults in the United States have an arrest or conviction. That’s over 65 million people with little hope for meaningful employment. Most of these are for non-violent offenses. While not a guarantee of better employment, Ban the Box laws do offer a second chance.
Historically, job applications have included a question related to any criminal offenses.
“Have you every been convicted of a felony?”
Simply checking ‘yes’ to this box frequently resulted in the immediate rejection of the job applicant. While Ban the Box laws do not exclude employers from asking these types of questions, it does postpone the inquiry until later in the process, typically the interview. At this point, the applicant has already had the opportunity to impress the employer with his or her previous work and educational experience. The interview at least offers the opportunity to provide an explanation for the past.
Exceptions are frequently made for more serious crimes, such as murder and rape.
Employers are still permitted to conduct background checks, but these too come later in the hiring process than the application. Employers are under no obligation to hire those with a criminal record. Jobs are not guaranteed.
By law, there are jobs that exclude those with a criminal background. Ban the Box laws do not remove this requirement. There are many positions, particularly in law enforcement and the public sector that do not permit the hiring of felons under any circumstances.
The EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has greatly increased the focus of this issue. Ban the Box practices have been endorsed as a best practice under Title VII of the Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records.
The Commission contends that criminal background checks may violate Title VII, since minorities are arrested and convicted at a higher rate than the general public. The EEOC contends that all jobs and crimes are not equal and that questions related to one’s criminal past should be tailored to the position. The severity of the crime should also be considered.
Many experts question how much Ban the Box laws will really assist those with a criminal history. Some claim that felons will still be unable to find good jobs; it will simply take longer to reject these applicants and waste the time and money of both employers and job seekers. Time will tell whether these laws are effective.
One thing is for certain; this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Ban the Box laws are spreading quickly across the country and federal legislation has been introduced. For those with a criminal background, understanding the related laws can be important to securing a meaningful and lucrative career. Ban the Box laws vary from state to state. There are even laws specific to individual cities. The laws are constantly evolving. Be sure you know your rights under the federal, state, and local law.