Congress to Consider Federal Ban the Box Law

The “ban the box” movement is nothing new, with nearly three dozen states enacting some form of prohibition against asking job applicants up front about their criminal history. Often called “fair chance” laws, proponents of banning the box contend that knowledge of an applicant’s criminal history influences employers against hiring an otherwise qualified applicant. The goal is to ensure that every applicant receives a “fair chance” at a consideration.

With a new balance of power in Congress and more widespread acceptance of these rules in many states, both chambers of the federal legislature will now consider bills to ban the box for government hiring. Dubbed the Fair Chance Act and moving separately in committee and subcommittee in the House and Senate, the rule would apply broadly: government agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration as well as all federal contractors would need to adopt new hiring guidelines compliant with the law.

Modeled after the ban the box rules used in many states, the Fair Chance Act delays inquiries and background checks until after an applicant completes the interview process and receives a conditional employment offer. At that stage, a contractor or agency can use their typical background check, such as's US OneSEARCH, and can also decline to make a final offer to an applicant based on the results. Sponsors of the bill, including Senator Cory Booker, contend that this law will help to level the playing field for government jobs. 

While members of both parties acted as sponsors to the bill, not everyone is in its corner. Opponents point out that agencies with rigorous hiring processes will now need to expend funds on a new hire with the possibility of wasting time and money on unsuitable hires. One lawmaker requested a Government Accountability Office study to examine the potential effects of implementing such a policy. 

The bill remains in committee with no further votes currently scheduled, though it did receive a favorable report in the Senate committee.

This is not the first time that the Fair Chance Act has come before Congress. In fact, the bill died in committee three times. Its new life — and fresh publicity — make many lawmakers hopeful that this will be its year. 

Growing bipartisan support may signal that the momentum begun by state-level movements is snowballing. For now, a federal, nationwide “ban the box” rule applying to all private employers is not a component to the bill, nor has such an idea even entered the conversation.

For the average employer, these rules represent an interesting development. For those who contract with the government, it highlights the importance of keeping up-to-date on current rules for hiring compliance. It also showcases the need for a robust background check policy that proves fair and reliable when the time comes. 

At, products from our US OneSEARCH to our state-level background checks can help you to navigate evolving hiring rules.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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