The legislation had a catchy name -- Ban the Box. The "box" refers to the box on a job application that candidates must check it if they've ever been convicted, or in some cases, arrested for a crime. A year ago, Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a measure forbidding employers to use the box on applications or to even ask potential employees about their criminal histories during their first encounter. The EEOC seems to agree.
In new guidelines released Wednesday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission described it as a best practice for employers.
"Some states require employers to wait until late in the selection process to ask about convictions," the EEOC wrote. "The policy rationale is that an employer is more likely to objectively assess the relevance of an applicant's conviction if it becomes known when the employer is already knowledgeable about the applicant's qualifications and experience. As a best practice, and consistent, with applicable laws, the Commission recommends that employers not ask about convictions on job applications and that, if and when they make such inquirers, the inquiries be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."
"Employers are taking it seriously," said William Hart, director of the city's Reintegrated Services for Ex-Offenders, talking about the "ban-the-box" legislation signed into law last year.
Hart said that Philadelphia prisons release 31,170 inmates a year. (That number may be larger than the amount of people, since some are in and out of prison several times in a year.) In addition, the state correctional institutions, which house more serious offenders, send 5,000 newly released inmates to Philadelphia each year.
"Competition for employment is fierce," Hart said.