Do ‘Ban-the-Box’ Laws Help Expand Employers’ Candidate Pools?

When employers look past the stigma of a criminal record, they find highly-qualified and motivated workers.

The best argument for why companies should support “ban-the-box” laws comes from the leaders who have given job applicants with arrest or conviction records a fair chance at employment.

“In my experience, people with criminal records are often model employees,” says one restaurant executive who employs hundreds of workers in Ohio and Florida. “They are frequently the most dedicated and conscientious. A lot of doors are shut to them, so when someone gives them an opportunity, they make the most of it.”

Another executive, the founder of a Denver-based telecommunications company, says, “Of all the groups we targeted, [people with criminal records] turned out to be the best employees, in part because they usually have a desire to create a better life for themselves … [and] are often highly motivated.”

These leaders have learned that opening job opportunities to people with criminal histories has actually given their businesses an advantage.

Today, ban-the-box policies are in effect in half the states—both red and blue—and in more than150 cities and counties around the country. These measures remove the conviction check box from public-sector job applications and defer background checks. A number of jurisdictions have expanded their laws to cover the private sector as well.

Ban-the-box legislation is common sense. It doesn’t tell you who to hire. It simply helps ensure that you don’t screen out people with records en masse. Plus, studies show it works. Research in Durham, N.C., Atlanta and San Francisco—all of which have ban-the-box policies in place—shows increased hiring of people with criminal records.

Companies that want to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and social responsibility are voluntarily banning the box. Three hundred companies—including some of the nation’s most recognizable employers, such as Google, Facebook, Starbucks, PepsiCo and Xerox—have signed the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a nationwide call-to-action to create opportunities for people impacted by the criminal justice system.

Among the leaders of this initiative is the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, which has a long track record of employing people with conviction records. Johns Hopkins executives say banning the box provides them with a pipeline of talented applicants who typically have lower turnover rates.

Unfortunately, too many employers remain wary of hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds. The stigma associated with having a criminal history negatively impacts employers’ hiring decisions and lingers for decades. The callback rate drops by at least half when a person has a record—which has far-reaching implications for these individuals, and for society, when you consider the following:

Seventy million people—nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults—have an arrest or conviction record. That shocking number includes a disproportionate number of people of color, reflecting the legacy of a racially biased criminal justice system.

As we look to solve these daunting problems, we must recognize that locking people out of the job market is a mistake. Employers can’t afford to miss out on the talents and perspectives of millions of good people who can contribute to a diverse workforce.

In the end, not only will our local communities benefit from ban-the-box laws, but employers will begin to realize the potential of this vast, untapped pool of men and women who are ready to work.

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez is a senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project in New York City and leads fair-chance hiring efforts to expand job opportunities for people with arrest and conviction records. 

This commentary was originally published in HR Magazine.

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