Proposals to “ban the box” asking questions about previous criminal history as part of job applications have proven to be arguably the biggest trend in the employment screening world throughout 2012 and 2013. The governors of states like Minnesota and Rhode Island signed legislation earlier this year that made “ban the box” policies a requirement throughout their states, both for government employers and private businesses.
Meanwhile, cities in states where “ban the box” legislation has not yet been presented are making their own moves toward establishing what they believe to be a fairer and more ethical employment standard. For instance, Philadelphia added citywide “ban the box” legislation in May 2012, also for both private and public employers. Now, Louisiana’s New Orleans is making a move to follow in the footsteps of countless other states, cities, and counties throughout the country. On November 18, Mayor Mitch Landrieu presented a “ban the box” bill proposal to the New Orleans Civil Service Commission that would require the criminal conviction checkbox to be removed from all city job applications.
Unlike the “ban the box” policies currently active in Minnesota, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, and many other cities and states around the country, Mayor Landrieu’s proposal would only demand the amendment of job applications for public employment. Private businesses in New Orleans would still have the choice of whether or not to continue asking about criminal convictions on job applications.
However, the proposed New Orleans “ban the box” policy would have much in common with the policies currently in place elsewhere. As with other “ban the box” legislation, a New Orleans-wide decision to not ask about criminal history on a job application would hardly equate to a lack of employment screening. On the contrary, the legislation states that applicants would be screened first based on employment history, education, and other elements of merit. The candidate determined to be the best fit for the job would then receive an employment offer and would have to pass a full background check to actually be hired.
If the post-interview background check uncovered a history of criminal convictions, the city would then have to determine whether or not the nature and severity of the crimes impacted the applicant’s ability to perform the job. Since applicants making it all the way to the background check stage will have otherwise proven their viability as impressive candidates, Mayor Landrieu hopes that the new “ban the box” system would help to diminish the discrimination that many ex-criminals face in the workplace.
For example, an applicant with a history of DUI charges would still likely be denied employment if the job in question involved driving. However, an administrative applicant with a single 20-year-old drug charge would stand a much greater chance at being hired than they do with current city policies.
According to an article on nola.com, Mayor Landrieu had an ace in the hole when it came to presenting his cause to the New Orleans Civil Service Commission. That “ace” was Lenard Veal, a man who spent seven months in jail 20 years ago for selling cocaine. Now, Veal is licensed in both insurance and private security through the state of Louisiana, and has built a rewarding life out of mentoring kids. Still, his decades-old criminal conviction has long kept him out of serious employment consideration in his preferred careers.
Playing the role of the ex-criminal who deserves a second chance, Veal enchanted the Service Commission, which deferred its decision on Landrieu’s “ban the box” legislation, but which also indicated to nola.com that it would approve the proposal once the Mayor determined how the background checks would work and who would execute them. The checks would likely involve both state and nationwide criminal searches, as well as checks of offender registries and warrant lists and Social Security Number validation, all of which are offered through backgroundchecks.com.