Banning the box - The Whens, The Whys and The Wheres

By Michael Klazema on 11/28/2010

Over the past six years, many cities and counties have decided to “ban the box,” eliminating the standard question “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” from applications. This idea, which began in San Francisco in 2004, has grown to encompass over 20 cities according to a July 2010 report from the National League of Cities and National Employment Law Project.

To be clear: While this movement looks to remove questions about convictions from the application process, it does not remove the need for background screening. Instead, the checks are simply delayed until the final stages of the hiring process. 

The ban the box movement has garnered a great amount of mixed emotions from both sides of the situation.  Many employers and employees are concerned because the movement has come off at first glance as somewhat scary or dangerous. However, it’s important to realize that many states require that any background screening conducted be done post-offer regardless of whether or not the convictions box appears on the application. In truth, this does not open you up to any more danger—It simply opens you up to the possibility of making a conditional offer to someone who you would’ve been able to easily disqualify in earlier days.

On the other hand, this movement can provide a second chance for applicants who have previously committed crimes.  Many states are passing these laws in order to reduce recidivism, protect public safety and expand employment opportunities. Let’s face it: Once ex-convicts are re-employed and have stable lives, they are much less likely to return to committing crimes in order to survive.

While still relatively unheard of, the movement is spreading faster and faster every year.  In fact, many of America’s larger cities such as Boston, Chicago, Portland, Jacksonville and Minneapolis, have been leaders in adopting this debatable movement. What’s more, the Ban the box  movement has become so popular that a number of states have passed laws applying the initiative to the entire state—Just last August, Massachusetts signed their CORI Reform bill (which includes a provision prohibiting employers from requesting criminal offender record information on initial written application forms) into law. 

Really, what this comes down to is being careful with your application. As always, will continue to update you on these restrictions as they are signed into law, and, as always, consult with your legal counsel to make sure that you are in compliance with your local laws.

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