On Saturday, October 14th, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1008, known casually as Ban the Box. This type of legislation has been a hot topic across the nation ever since 2015, when then-president Barack Obama banned federal government job applications from inquiring regarding the conviction history of potential employees.
In the months and years since, several states and hundreds of cities enacted similar legislation — joined this October by the state of California. The idea behind these laws is creating a path for former offenders to reintegrate smoothly and successfully into society.
With over two million people in prison at any given time, there are more prisoners in the US than in any other country in the world — including China and India, both of which have populations over 4 times greater than ours. Roughly 70 million Americans have some criminal record, which equates to a third of the entire workforce. In that African Americans and Hispanics are often incarcerated at a rate in excess of five times that of whites, the box has adversely impacted the ability of minorities to obtain much needed jobs.
Clearly, giving former convicts an opportunity to reform themselves is in everyone’s best interest. Avoiding criminal activity and influences is far easier when one has access to gainful employment, for example. If former convicts are unable to earn an honest living, they are left with little option apart from earning a dishonest living, which reduces safety across the board. (And this doesn’t even begin to cover the massive economic impact that discriminating against 30% of the workforce can have!) Unfortunately, some studies indicate that individuals are incarcerated not solely because of their crime, but because of racially disparate policies and practices. An unwarranted level of incarceration that serves to worsen racial disparities is problematic both for the impacted group and society as a whole in terms of both the effectiveness of the justice system along with the manner in which it is perceived.
The objection that many employers and some concerned citizens are sure to raise, of course, is safety. No employer wants to hire an employee who may reoffend — and no honest employee wants to risk working in an environment where dishonesty or violence could occur. Thankfully, there are safeguards in place to prevent these types of situations.
Employers are allowed to take criminal history into account before making a final job offer, for example. The idea behind ban the box is to simply give former convicts a chance. Rather than disqualifying former offenders straight off the bat, employers are required to judge applications based upon qualifications alone — thus allowing former offenders the chance to be interviewed and considered based upon their merits. An employer could still potentially decide against hiring a former convict, but at least this new system gives them a chance.
This new law will take effect on January 1st of 2018 — so if you are a former convict who is currently searching for work, you may still encounter questions regarding your criminal history on job applications until the end of this year. Moreover, there is sure to be at least some employers who either intentionally and/or accidentally fail to complay with the new protection. If, after the new year, you do find such questions or feel that you have been the victim of any form of discrimination by a current or prospective employer, however, you should be aware that an employer’s failure to comply with this new law may be considered a form of employment discrimination.
Staying up to date on your as an employee rights is a crucial component of defending them. Learn more about how the law defends you as a worker and how we can help you defend your employee rights, call us or request a free consultation.