We’ve all likely seen the box on a job application.
The question goes something like, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”
Most of us skim over this question with ease, checking “No” without a second thought.
But for some, this box invokes panic. It can mean the difference between landing a job or not. Providing for their family or not. Starting fresh, moving forward and breaking a generations-old cycle of crime and poverty in their community… or not.
Around 70 million Americans have some sort of arrest or conviction record — almost one in three of us of working age.
You probably know at least one.
Or you are one.
Should that detail outshine everything else on your job application?
Employment discrimination against someone with a criminal record or history of incarceration has been illegal in the U.S. since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
Still, millions of people face an inherent, if unintentional, bias when they’re looking for a job because of what this one box represents to employers.
For decades, lawmakers and activists have been taking steps to reduce the barriers to finding employment faced by people with a record.
Launched through the White House this week, the Fair Chance Business Pledge symbolizes a commitment to breaking down those barriers.
19 Companies Pledge Fair Hiring Practices
On Monday, 19 major U.S. companies convened at the White House to become the first to sign the pledge to overhaul their hiring practices with regard to people with records of conviction.
Anyone can sign the pledge on behalf of their company, telling the world:
We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to participate in the American economy.
The FCBP goes on to recommend “fair chance hiring practices,” including delaying inquiries into criminal history until late in the hiring process.
In particular, organizations like the National Employment Law Project and the Obama administration have expressed support for the campaign to “Ban the Box,” which would remove the criminal history question from job applications.
Making a record of conviction one of the last things a potential employer learns about an applicant — instead of one of the first — helps ensure the applicant is considered fairly and not rejected solely on the basis of their history.
Monday’s founding pledge-signers included:
- American Airlines
- The Coca-Cola Company
- The Hershey Company
- The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System
- Under Armour
With leading companies across various industries and political leaders across parties showing their commitment to fair hiring practices, we expect to see growing support for legislation enforcing these policies.
Fair Chance Laws in the United States
With laws passed this decade, over half the U.S. population now live in jurisdictions with some kind of employment protection for people with criminal records.
As of this writing, 21 states have passed laws delaying inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process.
Fourteen of those regulations apply only to public employment, while seven enforce the same requirements for both public and private employers.
Fair chance laws are written state by state, so the language of each is slightly different.
But each law generally falls into one of three categories, based on when in the hiring process an employer is allowed to ask about criminal history.
Here’s a quick overview of existing state laws:
1. “Ban the Box” from Job Applications
Eight states have laws removing any questions about criminal history from initial job applications:
- Wisconsin: Applies to state employment
- Virginia: Applies to state employment
- Oklahoma: Applies to state employment
- Ohio: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county
- Missouri: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county
- Massachusetts: Applies to all public and private employment
- Georgia: Applies to state employment
- California: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county
2. Consider an Applicant’s Other Qualifications First
Three states have laws prohibiting an employer from inquiring into criminal history until they deem the applicant otherwise qualified:
- Vermont: Applies to state employment
- Nebraska: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county
- Connecticut: Applies to state employment
3. Wait Until After the Job Interview
Eleven states have laws prohibiting an employer from inquiring into criminal history — often including a background check — until the applicant has been interviewed or offered the job:
- Oregon: Applies to all public and private employment
- Rhode Island: Applies to all public and private employment (Employer can ask about criminal history during the first interview.)
- New Mexico: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county (Applicant must be “deemed a finalist.”)
- New Jersey: Applies to all public and private employment
- Minnesota: Applies to all public and private employment
- Maryland: Applies to state employment
- Illinois: Applies to all public and private employment
- Hawaii: Applies to all public and private employment
- Delaware: Applies to all public employment, including state, city and county
- Colorado: Applies to state employment
Hawaii’s fair chance law was the first one passed, in 1998, and it’s one of the strongest. It prohibits employers from inquiring about conviction history until after they offer an applicant the job.
New York doesn’t have a law in place, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last September his administration would fully implement recommendations made by an anti-discrimination council regarding housing and employment.
New York’s policies apply to state employment and include the promise that applicants won’t be required to discuss or disclose convictions until after an interview.
Additionally, at least 100 cities in states with or without statewide policies have implemented their own fair chance policies.
Your Turn: Has your state enacted fair chance hiring practice legislation?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).