There has always been a great deal of discussion about the rights of those who have been to prison and the opportunities afforded them after they are released. In at least the last decade, there has been an uprising known as Ban the Box. As an employer you might not even really know about Ban the Box, what this means for you or why you should be aware of it. Still it is a civil rights exercise which has been gaining strength and support in recent years. According to NELP (National Employment Law Project) as of September 2014, “Thirteen states have embraced statewide Ban the Box fair hiring laws, and a total of thirty states with a local or state Ban the Box fair hiring policy.”
The "box" being "banned" is the one on hiring paperwork and on housing applications which asks those filling out the paper to check off whether or not they have a history of past convictions. The Ban the Box movement surmises that these questions about conviction histories may not allow some with an even chance of getting a job, house, or even an interview.
From the Ban the Box Campaign website, they are promoting employers to take what they call "The Fair Chance Pledge" in support of people who have had past convictions. They are asking all employers to become "an ally" in the struggle for civil rights and a level playing field for all.
The rubric for this pledge seems fairly straightforward on the surface. The Ban the Box pledge dictates that employers will:
- Open up opportunities for people with past convictions in the workplace.
- Welcome people back to the community after their release from jail or prison.
- Institute fair hiring practices conceding those who have had past convictions.
- Eliminate any restrictions on membership, volunteer or board participation which may exclude people with arrest or conviction history.
There is open discussion on either side of this argument. On the one hand, you have the formerly convicted who are out of jail, trying to get their life back in order but are having a difficult time being seen in any but the most menial service position type jobs. Of course service jobs are vital in a consumer economy. But for MBA's and others with greater aspirations, there is a definite ceiling in this industry as well.
On the other side of the coin, there are those who are doing the hiring who want to be made aware of any type of run in's with the law before they are lured in by the applicants charms in the interview process. That is, an applicant could have a winning personality, open availability, and a real can-do attitude and they could appear to be the perfect candidate for a job vacancy with your company. But if yours is a high end retail business with tens of thousands of dollars passing through your shop every day and this applicant is a convicted criminal and diagnosed kleptomaniac then that is something that the employer should know before making a hiring decision. Similarly if yours is a new brokerage firm and your applicant has years of experience but also served time for participation in a Ponzi scheme, that is information which you should be privy to. The reality is that examples like these can occur at any point in the hiring stage (regardless of Ban the Box regulations). You’ll want to make sure you do not apply a ‘denial all’ policy to your screening criteria. For more on job related background checks, see our EEOC Background Screening Decision Matrix.
Ban the Box has had momentum for some time and could be ready to take effect in your city / state soon (for a list of states that have Ban the Box regulations, click here). With so many people who have had previous convictions and our nation's over-crowded prison system, it's really no surprise that the hopefully reformed want a fair shake. At the same time, the rights of the employer need to be upheld and they should have a right to know certain vital information before they do any hiring.