Shelby County and Bethesda County Consider Ban the Box Changes

After a slow start in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the ban the box movement gained steam based on a simple idea: offering individuals with prior criminal convictions an opportunity to make their case for employment independent of their conviction status. By preventing employers from asking about conviction status on applications and in interviews, advocates hope that more formerly convicted individuals will be able to find the jobs that provide them with greater social stability. 

With dozens of states and many more cities and counties passing ban the box legislation with varying requirements, it is often a challenge for employers to stay on top of the latest developments.

The latest municipality to take action on ban the box is Shelby County in Tennessee, home to the major city of Memphis. Many of Tennessee's existing ban the box laws, including its state-level law, apply only to employment with the government. With its new rules, adopted in July 2020, the county did not choose to implement any restrictions on private businesses. Instead, it altered the selection process for applicants in positions related to or funded by the county. 

As with most such rules, Shelby's new procedures contain exceptions that allow employers to ask about crimes directly related to the job.

While some states may shy away from restricting how private businesses hire employees, others continue to consider such changes in earnest. Bethesda County in Maryland began the process of proposing changes to its existing ban the box rules in July. The county already mandates that employers of 15 or more people delay criminal history vetting, such as the wide-ranging US OneSEARCH from, until after interviewing candidates.

The county’s original rules reportedly have not had their intended effect, particularly because, according to local reports, more than 85% of businesses in the Washington, D.C. county employ 15 or fewer individuals. Commissioners want to close the loophole by reducing the requirement to a single employee, banning the box for all private businesses within the county in the process. 

Unlike Shelby County's rules, which require an employer to make a conditional job offer before running a background check, Bethesda's rules would only require employers to complete an initial interview before they could proceed with vetting. Bethesda commissioners hope to exclude misdemeanors more than three years old from consideration, incorporating elements of the "second chance" movement. The county's rules remain pending as of August 2020, with future debate and consideration scheduled for the coming months.

The spread of the ban the box movement should make it clear to employers that the right tools and procedures are still essential for smart, safe, and legally-compliant hiring. While remaining aware of local legislative developments, businesses should maintain the appropriate tools for reducing time-to-hire after fulfilling their ban-the-box obligations. 

With proven tools from a trusted provider such as, it takes no time at all to generate an extensive vetting report to aid you in making the best choices for your business.

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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