What’s “Ban the Box” All About? Some Practical Advice for Businesses

The idea behind “Ban The Box” is simple: it is a campaign seeking to introduce legislation prohibiting potential employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until “later” in the hiring process after consideration of an applicant’s qualifications.

The name “Ban The Box” refers to the check box on typical job applications that asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. The campaign seeks to remove the criminal history question from preliminary job application forms.

Currently, or without this legislation, employers are entitled to inquire about the applicant’s criminal history as early in the hiring process as when the job application is submitted.

The mantra of the movement is that without the sought after legislation, the job applicant is being treated unfairly. According to Nelp.org, employers should make individualized assessments instead of blanket exclusions and consider the age of the offense and its relevance to the job.

Opponents could argue that the legislation would impose a significant inefficiency on the organization by forcing prospective employers to wade through applications, conduct preliminary interviews, and then eventually get to the point in the process where criminal background is investigated and reasonably serves as a basis for terminating the application. Depending on the nature of the position, as well as the underlying nature of the criminal offense, it may never make sense to hire someone with a criminal background.

So why put the conviction history question off to later?

Advocates of the legislation are not seeking complete disregard of criminal history as one of the elements to the hiring process, but rather seeking to put off consideration of the history until later in the process after the applicant’s qualifications have been taken into consideration. Nelp.org notes that advocates can argue successfully with this point: “Nationwide, over 100 cities and counties have adopted ‘ban the box’ legislation so that employers consider the job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring.”

An informative guide with additional information is available courtesy of the National Employment Law Project at the Ban the Box Fair Chance State and Local Guide.