How Ban-the-Box Laws Makes Hiring Practices Fair

More than 65 million adults in the United States have criminal histories. These Americans face stigmatization and discrimination when trying to participate in society as employable adults.  Especially for minorities in California with criminal records; they must cross many barriers to find employment there. Pieces of legislation called ban-the-box laws seek to change that by creating fair hiring practices to stop the discrimination faced by people with criminal records. In addition to changing when background checks are conducted in the hiring process, this movement also seeks to create a uniform system for how background checks are conducted to create fairness.

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More than 33 states have implemented ban-the-box laws of some form since Hawaii took the lead in passing a first-of-its-kind law banning criminal-history questions from employment applications. A total of 15 have mandated the removal of conviction-history questions from job applications in the private sector. Hundreds of cities and counties also currently have ban-the-box laws on the books. Ban-the-box laws have a single purpose. They prevent employers from automatically disqualifying applicants with criminal records. That doesn’t mean that employers don’t have a right to conduct background checks before making hiring decisions. Ban-the-box simply pushes the requirement for when employers can conduct criminal-history checks further into the hiring process. While most states and cities allow for background checks after the first interview, others require employers to hold off on performing criminal background checks until an offer has been extended.

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Ban-the-box legislation got a big push forward at the federal level when President Obama endorsed hiring reform by directing federal agencies to delay inquiries into the records of job applications until the end of the hiring process. An even bigger boost came in 2019 when the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 became law under the National Defense Authorization Act. Scheduled to become effective in December of 2021, this new law prohibits most federal agencies and contractors from requesting information on arrests and convictions until job offers have been extended to applicants.

Ban-the-box laws benefit both people with criminal records and the society that has everything to gain from a rehabilitation-based justice system. One study found that hiring just 100 formerly incarcerated people could increase income tax contributions by $1.9 million, boost sales tax revenue by $770,000 and save $2 million annually by reducing recidivism costs. We also know that people who are employed are twice as likely not to commit any additional crimes after release when compared to those who are unable to secure employment. While many states have job-training programs for people who are incarcerated, the tax money being thrown at these programs is essentially being wasted if there aren’t any protections in place to help people with records actually get hired.

The bottom line is that ban-the-box laws aren’t about erasing background checks. They simply prioritize looking at candidate qualifications over turning down applicants solely based on their criminal histories. Evidence shows that these laws help to dismantle the structural employment discrimination faced by people with records. Ultimately, these laws give employers opportunities to make fair hiring decisions by getting a chance to see how qualifications and skills can outweigh concerns caused by previous convictions.