The Impact of “Ban the Box”

October 13th, 2014 by Dodie

One little box strikes fear into the hearts of convicted criminals attempting to re-enter society. Many job and tenant applications include the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, “Have you been convicted of any criminal activity?” This simple inquiry can feel like a roadblock to successful re-entry for those that have been given their freedom. But, a recent movement to ban this question on applications is intended to give a more level-playing field for all applicants. How does this impact employers and landlords?


The Principles of Ban the Box

The Ban the Box movement began in 2004 as a civil rights movement. The intention is to prevent discrimination in hiring and housing for convicted criminals rejoining society. To do this, proponents want to ban the inclusion of the question about criminal convictions on applications for employment and housing.

One belief is that by including the question on applications, it unfairly discriminates against applicants from certain races or ethnicities. Certain racial and ethnic backgrounds have a higher proportion of conviction rates than others. And, statistics show that 1 in 4 American adults has some type of criminal history.

By relying solely on the answer to this one question, employers and tenants may intentionally, or unintentionally, discriminate against those applicants. Good and qualified applicants can be overlooked unnecessarily.

Protecting Employer and Landlord Interests

Including the particular question on an application form may quickly and easily disqualify applicants with criminal convictions before the interview or applicant screening process begins. This means that certain applicants could be automatically excluded from consideration, narrowing the list quickly and easily. Some employers worry that legislation prohibiting this question will lead to more complicated hiring processes and extensive delays.

What the legislation really means is that employers and hiring managers will have to consider the facts and circumstances of convicted individuals on a case-to-case basis, and not as a blanket policy not to hire. By conducting thorough job interviews, reference checks, and job-related background and credit checks (as-needed), employers and landlords can protect their interests while treating all applicants fairly and equally.

If a conviction is uncovered during the pre-hire screening process after an interview, an employer or landlord should open a dialogue with the applicant to decide if the crime should be a bar to consideration. Some factors to consider:

  • What was the nature of the crime (violent, financial, drug-related)?
  • How long ago was the conviction?
  • Is the conviction a job-related concern?
  • Are there any extenuating circumstances that should be considered?

As any good manager knows, it’s critical to document any decisions made related to applicants. Good proof that a hiring or housing decision was fairly made based on non-discriminatory facts is the best defense against any charges.

As of 2014, a total of 12 states have already enacted legislation prohibiting public employers from inquiring about criminal convictions before interviewing, or before a conditional offer of employment has been made. Another five states have gone as far as passing similar legislation for private employers. The trend is expected to reach other states soon.

Employers and landlords should ensure that hiring and housing decisions are made based on facts, rather than potentially biased opinions. By doing so, employers and landlords can lessen the impact of Ban the Box while protecting their business interests and employees/tenants.

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