The “Ban the Box” law is a national movement to change employment applications that discriminate against job applicants who have a criminal conviction in their backgrounds. If you are a business owner or manager in a state that has adopted this law, you need to understand the legislation and its consequences.

What is the Ban the Box Law?

The box referred to is a field that appears on many job applications. It asks applicants to divulge if they have been convicted of a crime. The bill to abolish the field was first introduced in 2012, but it wasn’t passed into national law. Since that time, several states have adopted the provision along with more than 70 cities.

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Why Use the Box?

There is a lot of debate over this issue. One of the arguments in favor of abolishing this question from job applications is that it prohibits people from getting jobs that reintegrate them into society. If they can’t work, they may return to crime. Those against the initiative say that the fact that people resorted to crime in the first place means they have a predisposition toward it and may re-offend. If your business provides security services, services to protect people or services to children and the disabled, hiring someone with a criminal background may put you at risk of a lawsuit.

Why Not Leave it to Employers?

Proponents of getting rid of this question on applications point out that it discriminates against people who have served their sentences and who need a “clean slate.” People who have committed crimes have a 22 percent less chance of re-offending if they have jobs. Most employers say they are less likely to contact a job applicant who admits to having a criminal background. People who have that first encounter with a future employer are six times more likely to get called back for an interview. Employers say that getting rid of the box will make hiring more expensive. It can cost $600 to have a background check run on a job applicant. If the person has a criminal background, the business may not be able to hire him and that expense is wasted.

Are More States Likely to Pass the Law?

Of the states, counties and cities that have already passed the measure, most are in public enterprise. Private industry has been slower to come around. Part of this may be because they misunderstand the provisions of the initiative. It does not prohibit asking about a criminal background, or doing a background check. It only restricts these activities to after the initial application process. In addition, it may not apply to all businesses. Trucking companies, for instance, have the obligation to find out if an applicant has a history of driving while intoxicated. Preschools and child care facilities will not hire people with child abuse convictions. For these businesses, the ability to screen applicants in the initial application is important. The grassroots movement to pass the legislation into national law is gaining momentum, though. Target, which is the second largest discount store after Walmart, signed on. So have many other major industries. The trend seems to be toward adopting the provision universally.

The proposal is not national law yet. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made recommendations but can take no action against companies in areas that have not adopted the provision. In states and cities where it is the law, however, companies may have to go through investigations and spend time and funds defending against lawsuits. Forward-looking companies may be wise to implement the Ban the Box law before there is a federal mandate and deadline.