Syracuse Officials Weigh in on Banning Criminal History Box on Job Applications

By Michael Klazema on 2/8/2013

Activists across the nation have launched a “Ban the Box” campaign hoping to block questions on applications dealing with criminal history. Currently, 44 cities have already pushed this legislation forward, though most of these jobs are limited to city hiring or hiring by companies with city contracts. Common councilors from the city of Syracuse, New York are currently studying a potential ban, but they wish to extend the prohibition to any company doing business in the city.

Proponents of the bill state that it does not outlaw background checks nor does it prohibit employers from asking an applicant if they have been convicted of a crime. Instead, it gives those with criminal backgrounds a chance to be considered for a job without the stigma of their prior convictions. Regardless of whether it is consciously or not, many potential employers have a tendency to overlook candidates who have marked the criminal history check box. According to the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, companies cannot immediately disqualify people who have criminal backgrounds. Removing the check box on initial job applications could help bring more companies in line with these new federal and state rules. Alan Rosenthal, a speaker for the Center for Community Alternatives, stated, “Many, many employers in New York State, whether they realize it or not, are out of compliance and their necks are out there, in terms of potential liability.”

Syracuse councilors Jean Kessner and Khalid Bey made the Syracuse proposal public this past Tuesday. According to Bey, the proposed legislation would increase the taxpayer base and ease the tax burden that 44 percent of the Syracuse population shoulder since more people would be at work. The opposition in this situation, Rob Simpson of Centerstate CEO, argues that many businesses are concerned about this new legislation, as they “don’t want to be restricted in the way they make hiring decisions.” For many private companies, certain prior offenses immediately disqualify them for a position. For example, a registered sex offender is restricted from working with children. While schools can run background checks on all of the potential new hires, the criminal history box on the application allows them to narrow down the applicant pool faster and save time during the entire hiring process. Proponents of the “Ban the box” movement argue that people with criminal histories may lie on the application and not check off the box anyway, which means that businesses are left to conduct their own background checks on each new hire.

Work on the law is just beginning. The councilors have deferred the legislation to a committee that will hold a public hearing on the matter within the upcoming months. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miners states that the councilors should have spent much more time discussing the law before putting in on their study session agenda. She assures the businesses and residents of the city that she will closely study any final bill before signing it into law.

Even if questions about criminal history are not allowed in the initial phases of the job application process, there are other important backgrounds aspects to check when it comes to hiring new employees. For example, with screening tools from, companies can get past-employment verification and education verification to make sure potential candidates are not lying on their resumes. While this may not set their mind at ease regarding criminal convictions, it does allow them to do some vetting of their applicant pool.

About - - a founding member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and cofounder of the Expungement Clearinghouse - serves thousands of customers nationwide, from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies by providing comprehensive screening services. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an Eastern Operations Center in Chapin, S.C., is home to one of the largest online criminal conviction databases in the industry. For more information about backgroundchecks’ offerings, please visit



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