For most job applicants, the standard box within the application process which asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime may seem redundant and no cause for fear or anxiety because you have never been on the other side of the law. However, many former convicted criminals seeking rehabilitation and a fresh start are continuously haunted by the decisions of their pasts and this box, even though they are now seeking to be on the straight and narrow by positively contributing to society.
It has come as no surprise that many private companies and landlords depend on the disclosure of this information in making a decision as to whether or not to hire or take a person on as a tenant. Alternatively, it has also come to pass that many convicted felons are seeking to put an end to the constant reminders and punishment of their pasts in an effort to obtain lawful employment and residence in safer neighborhoods, which may be more conducive to their rehabilitation.
San Francisco has recently been noted for its diligence in proposing a new ordinance which would prohibit private employers, publicly funded housing providers, and city contractors from using job applications that inquire about a person’s criminal history. Currently, city agencies in San Francisco are prohibited from using applications which seek criminal history information from its applicants. If passed, any inquiry into an applicant’s criminal background would have to be reserved until after a live interview has been conducted. Jesse Stout, policy director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, recently noted in a recent Fortune.com article “Incarceration is bad enough.’ Once people are released from prison, they deserve ‘the basic right to the housing and employment that many of us take for granted.'”
Known as the “Fair Chance” ordinance, this is in fact another effort in a nationwide movement to “Ban the Box,” i.e. – the “little square on applications that, when ticked, acknowledges individuals’ criminal histories and often disqualifies them for a job or housing on the spot.” Other cities considering the “Ban the Box” movement include Louisville, Kentucky and Indianapolis, Indiana. On a state level, lawmakers in Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio also recently introduced “Ban the Box” legislation as well.
Hawaii became the first state to outlaw questions about a job applicants’ criminal background, when it passed a Ban the Box law that applied to public and private employment in 1998. Fifty-three cities and counties and ten states have established some sort of Ban the Box measure since then. Last year alone, eight cities joined those ranks, as did five states, including Minnesota and Rhode Island, which applied the rule to private employers in addition to state agencies.
The sentiment behind seeking this prohibition is steeped in the belief that the mass incarceration system is “broken” and those who have been incarcerated should be given an opportunity to work, especially if they are able bodied and qualified.
So what do you think? Should employers and publicly funded housing agencies be banned from requiring disclosure of applicants’ criminal history?
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.
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