Employers’ Ban-the-Box initiatives are taking hold in many states and municipalities. The City of Wilmington has joined the ranks of employers no longer requiring information on an applicant’s criminal history at the time of job application. Mayor Baker signed an executive order on Monday that removes a question about criminal convictions from city job applications.
According to Mayor Baker, the city will now conduct criminal background checks only on applicants who have received a conditional job offer. Public safety jobs in the police and fire departments are the only positions excluded from the order.
Mayor Baker’s initiative is a good idea for many reasons. According to the article, nearly one in four job applicants has some kind of criminal past. That is a significant portion of the population who could be automatically denied employment, and deprived of the opportunity to be a productive member of society, by employers taking an inflexible position on criminal background. Moreover, the practice of not hiring applicants with a criminal record disproportionately affects certain segments of the population: predominantly Hispanics and blacks. Because of this adverse impact, the EEOC has taken a particular interest in this practice.
In order to exclude applicants based on a criminal record and successfully defend an EEOC inquiry, the employer must prove that the exclusion was “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” In other words, the employer should be able to articulate its logic if it denies employment to an applicant based on criminal history. For example an employer hiring a cashier position who learns that an applicant embezzled from a prior employer five years ago passes the smell test for exclusion. On the other hand, it is much harder to justify excluding an applicant who is going to load pallets in the warehouse, because he wrote a bad check once. The severity of the crime, its relationship to the job, how long ago it was committed, are all factors that should be considered with each decision.
In April of last year, the EEOC issued an Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records. The Guidance laid out the statistical case for a heightened scrutiny of criminal background checks. While it does not outright ban asking about criminal history on a job application, it does strongly discourage the practice, and recommends that the employer wait as late as in the hiring process as possible to request this information. By waiting until an employee has been extended a conditional offer of employment, the City of Wilmington has done just what the EEOC advises.
Previous posts on criminal-history checks for potential employees.