Editorial: Ban the box goes too far

Bill could actually make such discrimination more likely

Everyone’s in favor of giving someone a second chance.

But so-called “ban-the-box” legislation proposed in the state Legislature to prohibit employers from asking potential employees about their criminal histories on job applications only gives applicants an opportunity to deceive their future bosses. And it might not even help them get jobs in the long run.

The “box” in question refers to a check-off box on job applications in which applicants must declare whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Often, when employers see this box checked, they automatically reject applicant swithout even interviewing them.

The bill (A.2343/S.2425) would prohibit employers from asking about a criminal conviction until after they’d offered the person the job.

Only then would the potential employee have to reveal his criminal past. Upon learning the nature of the crime, the employer could rescind the offer, but only if the conviction has a direct relationship to the particular job or if the new employee would be a threat to public safety or property, according to the bill memo.

That would put the onus on the employer to fi nd a reason to withdraw the job offer.

But why put either the employer or the applicant through this smoke-and-mirrors charade?

First, the applicant would deliberately withhold information that he could be forced to reveal later until he gets a tentative offer for a job. Then when the gets the offer, he’d still be unsure whether his conviction would disqualify him.

The employer, on the other hand, is being placed in the position of offering a job to an applicant who might have a criminal record that could eventually preclude him from being hired.

While they’re waiting to sort all this out, both the applicant and the employer are unable to move forward.

Why not just nip the conviction issue in the bud by forcing the applicant to reveal upon being called for an interview whether he’s got a criminal past that’s relevant to the job?

To prevent employers from discriminating against potential employees based on their criminal record, Article 23-A of state correction law already prohibits discrimination against a person with a criminal record unless “the duties or responsibilities of the job or license sought are directly related to the conviction.”

One danger of keeping a conviction secret until an offer has been made is that the law might encourage potential employers to conduct more internet background checks before calling applicants in for interviews — hoping to turn up a newspaper article, a TV crime-stoppers report or government website that lists convictions.

The employer could use that information to exclude an applicant with some phony but legally defendable excuse without ever giving the applicant a shot. The ban-the-box bill could actually make such discrimination more likely.

Businesses should be able to determine up front whether an applicant’s criminal past excludes him from employment. This bill, though well-intentioned, has the potential to create more problems than it solves.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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