A Federal Ban the Box Bill Is Currently Pending

By Michael Klazema on 4/14/2016

For the past few years, there has been arguably no headline staple in the background check world as consistent as the ban the box movement. Slowly, more and more jurisdictions throughout the United States have adopted legislation designed to give people with criminal records better odds of finding employment after serving out their sentences. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), more than 100 cities and counties have adopted some variation of ban the box legislation, while 22 states have also taken up the policies.

Now, the ban the box and Fair Chance Employment movements have gained enough momentum that they have reached their next natural evolution: federal legislation. According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, a United States Representative from Illinois is co-sponsoring a new bill that would ban the box nationwide. Rather remarkably, the legislation would have no caveats and would apply to all employers—public and private alike.

So far, most of the ban the box laws throughout the country ban the box for public employers but hold no sway over private companies. According to NELP, for instance, 22 states ban the box for public employers, but only seven have legislation that removes the criminal history question from private job applications as well. That factor could make it more difficult for the legislation to gain the support it needs to pass—support that would be easier to come by if the proposed law only applied to government employers.

With that said, Robert Dold—the Illinois U.S. Representative who is co-sponsoring the bill—has said that the legislation has "bipartisan support" in the House of Representatives. Dold himself is a Republican while ban the box laws and other policies of criminal justice reform tend to garner more support on the liberal end of the spectrum.

Based on the Tribune article, it sounds like Dold's reasons for supporting the federal ban the box policy are more or less the same reasons that proponents of Fair Chance Employment have been championing all along. By eliminating the question about criminal histories from all job applications, the law would give ex-offenders a chance to get their foot in the door, get a first interview, and prove their worth to potential employers.

Dold also believes that the legislation would cut down on recidivism and curb mass incarceration—thereby saving taxpayers money. Speaking with the Tribune, the U.S. Representative cited a statistic that said that two-thirds of ex-offenders who don't find jobs within six months of release fall back into patterns of crime and end up back in jail.

Like other ban the box policies, the federal law would not bar employers from conducting background checks or learning about their applicants' histories. Rather, the law would merely delay the discovery of criminal history until later in the applicant screening process. Ideally, this policy would prevent employers from discriminating against candidates based on criminal history, but also wouldn't force businesses to make hires without all relevant information on the table.


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