Tompkins County has officially become the latest jurisdiction in the state of New York to ban the box for public employees. The county, which houses the city of Ithaca, is the third county and the 11th jurisdiction in New York to ban the box. The city of Ithaca previously banned the box for public employees. Other counties that have removed criminal history questions from county job applications include Dutchess County and Ulster County.
According to a report from Ithaca.com, the Tompkins County Legislature took a vote on the new ban the box policy at a July 5th meeting. The policy received unanimous support from legislators and will be implemented as law "within the next two months."
Unlike with some other ban the box policies, the measure that has been approved in Tompkins County will not apply to every county position. For instance, the Ithaca.com report notes that elected officials will still be expected to disclose criminal convictions upfront. This mandated disclosure requirement will remain in place thanks to New York's "Public Officers Law," which bars felons from taking elected positions and "places restrictions" on individuals whose records include misdemeanor offenses. The policy will also have no impact on the Ithaca City School District—presumably because the city's existing public ban the box policy will take precedent.
All other jobs in the Tompkins County public sphere will be impacted by the new policy. The policy will influence practices throughout the county not just for countywide services and departments but also for all cities, towns, and villages located within the county. The policy will apply to all school districts aside from Ithaca City School District. Employers will be asked to remove questions about criminal history from their job applications.
Based on recent reports, the policy won't require a background check as part of the screening process. With many ban the box policies, employers are barred from running background checks until they make an offer of employment. Once that offer has been extended, the employer is free to run a background check. The results can determine whether or not the employer keeps the offer of employment on the table or withdraws it due to a discovery.
According to the Ithaca.com article, Tompkins County is different. Instead of only permitting employers to run background checks on finalists with employment offers, the county's policy would delay county employers from asking applicants about criminal history until the final round of screening. The ban the box policy gives the county room to ask finalists whether or not they have any criminal convictions on their records.
Candidates are expected to disclose their criminal history in the final stage of the screening process. The county's "personnel department" then looks at the convictions and weighs them in relation to the job or jobs at hand. If a conviction raises concern, an applicant might be disqualified. In cases in which the applicant has a criminal conviction on his or her record but is cleared by the personnel department, information about that person's criminal past would be kept secret. The information would stay in the hands of the personnel department and would not be passed to the department head in charge of making the final hiring decision.