Dealing with job competition is challenging enough, but for people who have to check off a box on the application asking if they have a criminal record, it can put them out of the running from the get-go. A recent movement to “ban the box,” however, has made it illegal for some employers to inquire about criminal history at the application stage.
This measure was most recently passed by President Obama to protect former convicts from discrimination when applying for jobs with federal government agencies. And, it’s already been implemented in New York City.
This is good news for anyone who has paid his or her debt to society, and is looking forward to a new and improved life – the first step of which requires becoming employed. As of now, more than half of former inmates say they are unable to find work within the first year of being out of jail, according to research by the Justice Department.
Here’s a closer look at how “ban the box” changes might make the job search easier for former convicts in the near future:
What it is: The new law is designed to protect those with a criminal past from being discriminated against in the early stages of their job search. By banning the box from applications, it allows those with past convictions the opportunity to meet with prospective employers and get further into the hiring process before having to disclose past convictions. There are some positions that are exempt from ban the box rulings, such as those in the law enforcement sector.
What it isn’t: Ban the box doesn’t mean that questions about one’s criminal history is off limits. Those inquiries can come up after a job offer is made. The goal, however, is by that point, the candidate will have had the opportunity to make a good impression, so they can outshine their past mistakes. If a potential employer decides to rescind a job offer once a criminal record is disclosed, they must explain in writing how/why the person’s background might pose a risk.
Finding a job when you have a criminal record can be extra challenging, but there are steps you can take to help improve your chances, such as being honest when the question does come up, having strong character references, and targeting jobs that don’t require squeaky-clean backgrounds. Of course, you can’t do any of that if your application automatically gets you sent to the no pile, which is the very thing that “ban the box” is trying to eliminate.