South Carolina Town Shuts Down Ban the Box Ordinance

By Michael Klazema on 1/9/2014

One of the major trends in the background check industry over the past couple of years has been the spread of “ban the box” legislation, laws that have prohibited employers in towns, cities, and states all across the country from including any questions about criminal history on job applications. However, ban the box laws – which are designed with the goal of giving ex-criminals better chances of securing employment – are not for everyone. That much at least was proven in the town of Florence, South Carolina, where the city council recently cut down a proposed ban the box ordinance.

The ban the box ordinance has been percolating in the city of Florence for the better part of a year now. Last April, councilman Ed Robinson announced in a news conference his belief that Florence needed an ordinance that would help to cut down on discrimination in the employment process. Robinson’s proposed ordinance, similar to pieces of ban the box legislation that has been passed in states like Rhode Island and Minnesota and cities like Richmond, California, would have prohibited local businesses from asking about criminal and felony history on an initial job application.

In practical terms, the failed ordinance would have given applicants with criminal histories an opportunity to secure an interview or get further in the hiring process than they otherwise would be able to, perhaps giving them the chance to show off their hirable qualities and posit themselves as attractive applicants – despite their criminal pasts. In many ways, Robinson was merely hoping that he could build a hiring environment in Florence where all applicants could be judged based on their merits rather than on their past mistakes or misdeeds.

Robinson stated in his initial news conference about the ordinance that he felt criminals being denied employment consideration and opportunity would only lead to higher and more destructive rates of recidivism. The councilman, an African-American himself, also expressed a belief that the problem of employment discrimination in Florence was especially severe for the African-American community. The EEOC has made similar statements in the past, and has even at times hinted that employment discrimination involving criminal history might have race-related implications to it.

The Florence ban the box ordinance would not have infringed upon employers’ ability to require background checks of their applicants. In other words, a background check would still have given employers all of the information they needed or wanted to know about their employers, including criminal histories, presence on sex offender registries, and more. However, it appears now that Robinson’s ban the box battle was all for naught. According to a local CBS affiliate, the ordinance was felled by the city council, with a final vote of 4-2. One member of the council was not present to submit a vote.


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