Nebraska May 'Ban the Box' on Employment Applications

They've since reduced the number of background checks, running them only at the final stages of the selection process. Hawaii prohibits inquiries into criminal history until a conditional employment offer has been made. Minnesota puts the inquiry off until the applicant has been selected for an interview. New Mexico now runs the check after an applicant has been selected as a finalist for a position.

Legislators have suggested similar delays to the inquiry in Connecticut, Wisconsin and New Jersey, where ban the box bills are pending. Also, several cities including Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Boston have passed bans on the initial check.

'Ban the Box' Opposition

But with the national unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, sympathy for unemployed ex-offenders isn't always a popular sentiment.

Those who oppose such legislation consider the box a telling indicator of an applicants character and a cost-effective tool to sift out job candidates while ensuring a safe working place.

"It goes to the basic characteristics of the individual," said Galen Clagett, a state delegate on the Maryland House Appropriations Committee, which voted to kill a 'Ban the Box' bill 16-9 in March. Clagett also runs a private business, a property management firm, and said he uses the box to eliminate applicants.

"I don't want to spend money to get somebody in the cue and then find out I'm not going to hire them because they have a criminal record," Clagett said.

Besides, for Clagett, the variety of federal re-entry and placement programs available to ex-offenders makes the need for 'Ban the Box' "much ado about nothing."

Putting Pressure on Recruiters?

In Wisconsin, where pending legislation proposes banning the box on applications -- not only for the public sector but also for private employers -- the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce actively opposes the bill. WMC is an association of mostly private businesses; no Wisconsin public employers have taken a specific side on the issue.

The state employment regulation in Wisconsin is already layered with a variety of work-safety, anti-discrimination and arrest and conviction record protection rules, said John Metcalf, WMC's human resource policy director. Yet another law limiting employers freedom to pick candidates, he said, would put even more pressure on recruiters.

In fact, he said, employers may also start facing more discrimination law suits from potential hires who receive a conditional employment offer and then get eliminated by a background check that uncovers a crime related to the job, such as a former money embezzler applying to be a cashier or a former burglar trying to be a janitor with open access to private property.

Boston Bans the Box

On the flip side, it was complaints of unfair treatment from job applicants that prompted Boston, Mass., to ban the box.

The city eliminated the need for a check from thousands of positions, mostly administrative, that are supervised and don't involve direct interaction with so-called vulnerable populations: young, elderly and disabled people.

For those positions in Boston that do warrant a background check, no inquiries are allowed until the candidate receives a conditional job offer.

"It's not in our interest to keep people out of work," said Bill Kessler, Boston's assistant director of human resources who spearheaded the 'Ban the Box' initiative.

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