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Does Your Hiring Process Need a Revamp, Due to New “Ban the Box” Laws?

Getting hired in today’s temperamental job market can be challenging. But for the 1 in 4 American adults with a criminal arrest or conviction, the obstacles to securing employment can be nearly insurmountable.

This is the impetus behind “ban the box” legislation. But what does it mean for employers?

To date, 10 states and more than 50 cities have passed laws designed to reduce hiring barriers for individuals with criminal histories. Deemed “ban the box” for the question on job applications, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”, the laws restrict an employer from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until the job interview – or, in some cases, after the applicant is qualified and offered a position.

While the intent is the same, the specifics vary. For example, when they were first introduced, ban the box laws applied only to government contractors and subcontractors. In recent months, however, the laws have expanded to target private and public employers, as well.

Currently, 10 states have adopted ban the box policies:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island

Of these states, four have banned the box for both public and private employers: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island. The rules for private employers apply in the following cities, too: Buffalo, NY; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Seattle, WA; and San Francisco, CA.

As you might imagine, there’s some confusion regarding the workplace rules with ban the box legislation. Employers should be aware that they’re not prohibited from conducting a background check on an otherwise qualified individual. Nor are they required to hire an individual with a criminal record. Instead, the purpose of ban the box legislation is to shift the criminal history inquiry from the initial application stage until later in the hiring process, when employers hold an interview or extend a conditional job offer.

Some additional considerations:

  • Ban the box laws may restrict inquiries to certain types of convictions, barring questions about non-conviction arrests or expunged records.
  • Certain industries and jobs are exempt, such as positions in child care, health care, law enforcement and finance.

What can affected employers do to comply with the new ban the box laws? First and foremost, review and revise all employment applications to ensure they don’t include a criminal history question. Next, modify your hiring procedures to delay any inquiries about criminal history until it’s appropriate, which includes training hiring managers on the guidelines under local or state law.