Across the nation and here in Tompkins County, there is a Ban-the-Box movement to reduce barriers to employment for applicants who have a felony conviction on their record. Given the enormous number of people who have been convicted, the vast majority for non-violent crimes, employers play an important role in helping people find decent, stable employment. Other states such as Hawaii, Ohio, Oregon, Massachusetts, California and N.J., and municipalities such as Orlando, NYC, and the City of Rochester have passed Ban the Box Ordinances. In June of 2015, NYC went beyond banning the felony box on applications for jobs in city government, and now prohibits both public and private employers from asking questions about felony convictions during the initial employment application process.
As a business that has employed a lot of people over 42 years and values fairness in employment, this seemed like something important for us at Moosewood Restaurant. In our case, we were actually using the same old boiler-plate application for years; I looked at it and there was the question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony? If yes, please indicate which charges may be relevant to the position you are seeking.” All we needed was to agree that this was an unnecessary barrier, and we revised the application and deleted the question. Simple.
There are multiple steps in a hiring process, and employers may ask about prior convictions at later stages. In some cases employers must ask about felonies up front if it’s relevant to the position the candidate is seeking, for instance, as a police officer or as a childcare worker.
“Unless one of the limited exceptions applies, an employer cannot make any inquiry—either verbally or in writing, including in an employment application—about an applicant’s criminal record during the “initial employment application process” (IEAP). Once the IEAP is complete, an employer can make inquiries about an applicant’s criminal history”
Ban the Box laws and policies don’t require the employer to hire a particular applicant, but one of the goals is to reduce recidivism among qualified people who happen to have a record and to help people who could be fine employees make it through the application screening process. The Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force gave the movement a boost when it endorsed hiring practices “which give applicants a fair chance and allow employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits.”
We encourage other businesses and institutions in Tompkins County to adopt Ban the Box policies. Whether one is a small business owner, manager, department head or human resource director, employers understandably have important questions.
These links may be helpful: