Update: Ban-the-box and criminal background checks


Some quick catch-up from the past week:

First of all, in New Jersey, the Senate's Labor Committee heard testimony about the state's proposed "ban the box" legislation, limiting when employers can inquire about an applicant's criminal history. The legislation essentially requires employers to eliminate questions about the person's record until a conditional offer is made. Advocates say that existing practices lump people with minor offenses into the same category as serious criminals, denying them all a chance to find work. Opponents say the legislation poses safety risks, even during the interview process, and wastes time, particularly if the crime relates to the job. Click here to read the Senate version of the bill.

“A bad left turn in anyone’s life doesn’t necessarily mean that a human being doesn’t have the skills and abilities to be a productive member of society,” Al Koeppe, of Newark Alliance, testified, according to a report by the Associated Press. As the former president of PSEG, or Public Service Enterprise Group, Koeppe said, he hired many people who had a criminal past, and many of them worked harder than those that did not because they knew how hard getting a job was.

“Employers still have the ultimate discretion to choose the best candidate for the job,” bill sponsor  Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said, according to AP. “But these decisions should be based on skills and qualifications, rather than past convictions.”

In related news, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suits Tuesday against two employers based on criminal background checks.

For years, BMW Manufacturing Group Co. LLC. in South Carolina, used the services of UTi Integrated Logistics, a subcontractor, to handle warehouse and distribution work, plus transportation services and manufacturing support. BMW had a blanket policy denying access to its facilities to employees with criminal backgrounds, but UTi's standards limited review to convictions within the last seven years. In 2008, UTi lost the contract and its employees were forced to reapply for jobs with the new contractor, who followed BMW's policy. When that happened, several former UTi employees lost their jobs, even though they had been working in the BMW plant for years. The EEOC said the result of the policy was discrimination against African Americans.  

The Dollar General (Dolgencorp) suit named as plaintiffs two African American women. One was conditionally offered a job, even after she disclosed a six-year-old drug possession conviction. The offer was revoked because Dollar General uses her type of conviction as a disqualification for 10 years. She had previously worked for a similar discounter. The other plaintiff was fired when a background check turned up a conviction -- but the background check was wrong.

The EEOC is a member of the federal interagency Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level interagency group convened to examine all aspects of reentry of individuals with criminal records.  Among other issues, the Reentry Council is working to reduce barriers to employment, so that people with past criminal involvement - after they have been held accountable and paid their dues - can compete for appropriate work opportunities in order to support themselves and their families, pay their taxes, and contribute to the economy, the agency wrote in a press release announcing the suits.

You can click here to read my recent blog post on the EEOC guidelines, issued just over a year ago.