‘Ban the Box’ movement continues to gain steam as President Obama plans executive action

  • 11/5/2015
  • Kevin Rosenquist
‘Ban the Box’ movement continues to gain steam as President Obama plans executive action image
There has been a lot of talk in the past year about the “ban the box” movement, pushing to forbid employers from asking if an applicant has ever been convicted of a crime on a job application. Earlier in the week President Obama announced he will be directing federal agencies to wait until later in the application process to inquire about criminal history. This is a big step for those pushing for national “ban the box” laws.

The idea of the campaign is that there is limited information that can be gained from asking that one, broad question. There could have been extenuating circumstances involved in a past conviction that make the situation more complicated. Should someone in their forties be punished today for something that happened when they were 18? Someone could have a misdemeanor on their record for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, that isn’t the case all the time. But the momentum of the movement comes from those who may have made mistakes in the past and are trying to get their lives together, only to be denied employment because of those mistakes. This can make it difficult for those re-entering society to get on track and leads to higher rates of recidivism.

Some states are also adopting laws where an employer can only deny employment if the crime directly affects the work they would be doing. For example, someone who has a conviction for a financial crime may reasonably be denied a position as a bank teller but not a position as a factory worker.

Obama is pledging to retool the criminal justice system, starting with banning the box for all federal agencies stating that the federal government “should not use criminal history to screen out applicants before we even look at their qualifications.” The President spoke at Rutgers University participating in a roundtable on criminal justice reform. "It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We're not suggesting ignore it," Obama said. "What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case."

Again, this is a big step in the movement. It won’t be long before all 50 states adopt the law. I’ve heard people suggest that they use the question as a tool to see how honest an applicant is, comparing the answer with the results of a background check. We encourage employers to find other ways to check for honesty and keep the question off their employment applications.

For more information about the Ban the Box Campaign visit http://bantheboxcampaign.org/