If you have never been arrested, if you have never been convicted of a crime and if you have never been incarcerated, you may not realize the pervasive discrimination that permeates the employment market. If an applicant who has been convicted of a crime is upfront with a prospective employer and marks off the box that they were convicted of a crime, regardless of the circumstances, the chances of the job seeker gaining employment are slim. If the applicant decides to check NO to the answer of any criminal conviction, and the employer finds out that the applicant was, in fact, convicted, it is lied on an application which can be grounds for immediate termination. Unfortunately, if you’re black or Hispanic and have been convicted of a crime, the chances of finding a job are even more remote. A study of New York City hiring practices showed that applicants were 50 percent less likely to be called back or offered a job if they had a criminal record, and if the applicant was black or Hispanic the percentage is even lower.
This practice of discrimination has just changed in New York City. A new law called the Fair Chance Act, which was passed by the New York City Council and went into effect on October 27, 2015, makes it illegal to be denied a job because you have a criminal record. That one box on an initial application, which has blocked so many eligible applicants from gainful employment and economic opportunity for both the applicant and society, is now gone.
The Ban the Box Movement was started in 2004 by an organization called All of Us or None, a national civil rights and human rights coalition comprised of formerly incarcerated people. According to founders Dean Becker and Dorsey Nunn, “the primary objective of the Movement is to dismantle the structured discrimination faced by people with criminal records in society.” According to Mr. Becker and Mr. Nunn, “the Movement’s central strategy is to advocate for the removal of questions about criminal history from the early stages of the employment process.” Many studies have shown that former convicts are discouraged from applying for a “respectable” and well paying job because their criminal past would be an immediate disqualification, especially if the applicant is black. The theory behind the Ban the Box Movement is the rationale that employers will be more able to select the most qualified applicants without the distraction and stigma of a criminal record, at least during the initial hiring process.
According to a September 25, 2015 survey by the National Employment Law Project, written a few weeks before New York City’s decision went into effect, there are 19 states representing nearly every region of the country that have adopted Ban the Box on all state applications, and seven states have adopted Ban the Box to include all private employers, as well. There are over 70 cities and counties that have implemented this fair hiring policy in various capacities. In late 2014, two major corporations, Target and Walmart, also removed questions about criminal history from their applications.
According to various research papers, hiring people who were convicted of a crime can increase the tax base of the local economy and more importantly, reduce crime. According to Pamela Paulk, Vice President of Human Resources for the John Hopkins Health Resource Center, employees with criminal backgrounds are 1 to 1.5 percent more productive due to the fact that employees with a criminal history have a more driven approach to prove themselves to their family, friends and society. They tend to be dedicated and ambitious. Furthermore, hiring people with a past criminal record keeps them off the streets and away from an environment of crime. Author Piper Kerman stated in a recent New York Observer interview, “Getting a job is the single most important expectation we have for returning home from prison.”
This is just a brief overview of a very important public policy that will help dismantle the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records entering the labor market. However, every new policy has controversy and detractors. The onus to manage this new policy is now on the employers. Many small business owners are not happy, especially in a city like New York City, which is already a very expensive place to conduct business and is highly regulated. In an upcoming post we will discuss the new responsibilities placed on business owners and the critical role a licensed private investigation firm plays in helping businesses navigate this new regulation.