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What are Ban the Box Laws?

If you’ve ever filled out a job application, you know there’s often an area where you are asked to check a box if you have ever been convicted of a crime. This makes it easy for employers to see if an applicant has been in legal trouble, and makes it difficult for anyone who has to find work. The “Ban the Box” movement is an effort to eliminate this question from job applications and open up employment opportunities to people who made mistakes in the past.

Why are the Boxes Unfair?

It used to be just about every job application had a box related to criminal behavior and as you might assume, the applications on which the box was checked “yes” were shuffled to the bottom of the pile of candidates. Employers rarely bothered asking for details and most people who were obligated to check the box never got a call-back for an interview. A person who might be perfectly qualified for a job was not even considered because of something he or she might did decades ago.

No doubt it was tempting for some applicants, assuming their actions were far enough in the past to not matter, might choose not to report their criminal behavior. Unfortunately, as many have learned, if a potential employer ran a background check, their past actions were unveiled. Not only had they made a mistake in past – one an employer might have been willing to overlook – they’re being dishonest in present time – something that’s more difficult for employers to handle.

Banning the Box

As a result of the unnecessary negative effects of the questions about run-ins with law enforcement on job applications, many states began to implement Ban the Box laws, prohibiting applications from including these questions.

Currently, 12 states and a few cities have Ban the Box laws. In some instances, a potential employer can ask about criminal convictions, but only after the applicant has been interviewed and determined to be qualified for the job. Others require there be a conditional offer of employment made before the question is asked. Philadelphia even went so far as to say an employee cannot be fired or have an offer of employment retracted because of a closed criminal case that did not result in conviction.

The good news about Ban the Box laws is that they tend to reduce the number of applicants blocked from employment because of a mistake. Those in favor of banning the box believe this will actually prevent crime in the future because people tempted to commit crimes will instead be gainfully employed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been trying to overhaul the employment system’s treatment of applicants with a criminal record for years. Too many people are mistreated because of the way job applications were designed, and they are not being able to find a job often resulted going back to their old way of life and committing crimes to get the money that they needed to survive.

Moving Forward

Of course, Ban the Box laws aren’t perfect. For instance, in some situations, smaller employers can still ask such questions because they are not defined as employers under applicable laws because they don’t have enough employees. Some might choose to forego questions about past misconduct, but they aren’t required to by law.

New York City’s Ban the Box law, which went into effect in 2015, applies to employers with at least four employees. Under the bill, a job offer can be rescinded after a criminal background check, but not without an explanation and a discussion regarding the employer’s requirements and the applicant’s conduct. Mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a similar law for all city employees in 2011. You can read more about New York’s Ban the Box law here.

More and more these days employers are providing opportunities to those who would not have been given a chance in the past. If you have been affected by Ban the Box laws, we want to know. And if you need assistance because you believe you were treated unfairly during the application or interview process, you can contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.


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