Current law in Rhode Island restricts employers from inquiring about arrests. Senate Bill 357 amends Chapter 28-5 of the Rhode Island General Laws entitled “Fair Employment Practices.” With its passage, the bill makes it an “unlawful employment practice” for an employer to inquire about any convictions before the first interview. However, employers may ask an applicant for information about his or her criminal convictions at the first interview or thereafter.
There are two specific exceptions provided in the law allowing employers to inquire about convictions before the first interview. An exception is provided if a federal or state law or regulation creates a disqualification from employment based on a person’s conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses. Another exemption is made if an individual must be bonded for a position and a conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining the bond.
Rhode Island joins California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Minnesota, in passing ban-the-box legislation. There are also many cities across the United States that have passed various forms of ban-the-box ordinances. It is a trend we expect to continue.
You may access Senate Bill 357 here: http://legiscan.com/RI/text/S0357/id/866828/Rhode_Island-2013-S0357-Comm_Sub.pdf
City of Buffalo Enacts “Ban the Box” Ordinance
The City of Buffalo recently enacted a new ordinance that essentially bans the box. Banning the box refers to the elimination of an inquiry on a job application into a person’s criminal history. The new ordinance prevents the City of Buffalo, its vendors, and any employer in Buffalo with at least 15 employees from asking questions about an applicant’s prior criminal convictions during the application process. (The ordinance does not specify whether an employer must have 15 employees in Buffalo to be subject to the ordinance.)
The new ordinance prohibits an employer from inquiring into or requiring an applicant to disclose or reveal a criminal conviction during the application process and prior to the first interview. The application process begins when an applicant inquires about employment and ends when the employer has accepted an employment application. If an employer does not conduct interviews, the ordinance requires the employer to inform the applicant whether he or she must undergo a criminal background check before employment commences.
Employers hiring for licensed trades or professions, including interns and apprentices, may ask applicants the same questions asked by the licensing body in accordance with New York state law. Also, when hiring for some positions, an employer may inquire about certain convictions or violations that would be considered barrier crimes under state or federal law.
The ordinance specifically requires employers to comply with Article 23-A of the New York State Correction Law when considering an applicant’s prior criminal conviction in determining suitability for employment. Article 23-A protects an applicant from discrimination based on a past criminal conviction unless the employer considers eight factors to determine that the conviction disqualifies the applicant.
Exemptions to Buffalo’s new ordinance are authorizations provided by other applicable law, and hiring for the police and fire departments. Also exempted from the ordinance are public and private schools, and any public or private service provider of direct services specific to the care or supervision of children, young adults, senior citizens, or the disabled.
The ordinance has an effective date of January 1, 2014. The amended bill is not yet available, although the text of the bill passed by the legislature is viewable here: http://ecode360.com/documents/BU1237/source/489610.pdf
Article 23-A of the New York State Corrections Law is available here: https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/correction-law-article-23a.pdf