Discrimination by potential employers is far too common against ex-offenders who are trying to re-enter the workforce. Although finding and retaining employment is exactly what formerly incarcerated individuals need in order to reintegrate into society, doing so can sometimes be one of the most difficult challenges that they are faced with. Many political leaders and experts believe that much of the discrimination that is experienced by formerly incarcerated individuals is due to a single question that has been included in job applications across the nation for decades. The question asks applicants about the applicant’s criminal history. It is believed that asking about an individual’s criminal history at such an early stage in the hiring process significantly interferes with the applicant’s ability to obtain an interview, let alone secure employment.
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In 2004, a civil rights movement called All of Us or None, decided it was time something was done to help end employment discrimination against ex-offenders. Ban the Box, an international campaign that is focused on persuading employees to remove the checkbox on job applications that asks if an individual has been convicted of a crime is said to do just that.
Banning the Box in Minnesota and Across the Nation
Surprisingly, although it is estimated that approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States has been convicted of a crime, the progress of the campaign has been slow. While multiple jurisdictions adopted the ban the box policy, also known as the fair chance act, it was nearly five years later that an entire state adopted it as law. In 2009, the state of Minnesota banned the box for public employers, becoming the first state to do so, and in 2014, the ban was extended to private employers. Employers in the state who need to ask about criminal histories now must wait until they have either granted an interview or extended an actual conditional job offer. Employers were given 30 days to change their applications and those who did not comply faced fines of up to $500 per month.
While the fix seemed to be just a simple change on an application form, numerous companies have appeared not to comply. Investigation of such companies, however, reveals that the application copies in question were either stray copies that had mysteriously turned up or copies that resurfaced after new copies that were in compliance had been created.
President Obama Makes a Move Toward Banning the Box
On October 16, 2015, an estimated 130,000 signatures requesting the President Obama ban the box on federal job applications arrived at the White House. The president responded on November 2, 2015 when he executed an order that will prohibit public employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications throughout the United States. The law will go into effect January 1, 2016. Currently, 19 states have already banned the box for public employers, and seven states have eliminated the box in the private sector as well. With an estimated 600,000 formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrating into society each year in the United States, the new law could potentially affect the ability of billions to obtain employment.
When Can Employers Ask About Criminal History?
It is important to remember. however, that banning the box does not interfere with an employer’s right to ask about criminal history in certain situations.
- The federal law only applies to employers in the public sector this time unless the employer is located in one of seven states that have banned the box in its entirety. Minnesota is one of those states.
- Employers may require a background check if it is required for the job in question.
- Once a contingent offer of employment has been made, employers may ask about criminal history and/ or run a background check if they wish.
- Employers may ask about criminal history after an interview has been granted.
In essence, the law does not remove employers rights to discover the criminal history or potential employees, it simply helps prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from being discriminated against.
Who Will Be Affected By the New Ban the Box Law?
As changes to job applications begin to be implemented, it is expected that society as a whole will begin to notice a difference.
- Recent studies reveal that an estimated 60 percent to 75 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals are unable to obtain employment within a full year of their release.
- Banning the box will enable more ex-offenders to interact with hiring managers, an opportunity that is said to improve chances of gaining employment by up to 50 percent.
- According to the National Institute of Justice, a criminal record can reduce an individual’s chances for obtaining employment by up to 50 percent.
- Many believe that an ex-offender’s inability to secure employment increases the chances that that individual ends up right back in prison.