Fair-Chance Policies Adopted in 7 States and 28 Localities in 2016

Before we dive into new efforts in 2017 to expand employment opportunities for people with records, let’s pause to reflect back on the accomplishments of the past year—because they’re significant.

In particular, impressive strides were taken toward expanding “fair-chance” or “ban-the-box” laws and policies across the nation. These reforms encourage employers to consider job applicants with records on their merits by requiring the delay of inquiries into their conviction and arrest histories until later in the hiring process—after the initial application or, even better, after a conditional offer of employment. Viewing a job applicant with a record as more than just a checked box is critical to leveling the playing field for the 70 million Americans with an arrest or conviction history, especially in light of the disproportionate impact that the justice system has on communities of color.


Nearly two-thirds of the total U.S. population—over 206 million people—now live in a jurisdiction with a ban-the-box policy that requires public and sometimes private employers to delay record-related inquiries. As of year’s end, 24 states and over 150 cities and counties across the nation have adopted some form of ban-the-box or fair-chance policy. In just 2016, five new states were added to that tally—Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—a group that once again shows that the success of the fair-chance hiring movement is widespread, including in traditionally red states and in the South.

The South also saw considerable progress at the local level this year. Half of the 28 cities and counties[1] that adopted ban-the-box laws in 2016 are located in southern states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. One of the most notable victories was in Austin, Texas, where city officials adopted a fair-chance ordinance that expanded Austin’s 2008 ban-the-box policy to cover private-sector employment in addition to local government jobs.

The City of Los Angeles and two states, Connecticut and Vermont, also passed private-employer legislation. To date, nine states and fifteen localities, including the District of Columbia, have adopted private-sector laws, and over 20 percent of the U.S. population now lives in a locality or state that prohibits private employers from inquiring into an applicant’s record at the start of the hiring process. What’s more, hundreds of businesses signed the White House Fair Chance Business Pledge this year and dozens of philanthropies pledged to ban the box.

Even before submitting a single job application, workers with records face an additional barrier to quality employment. Because of their records, many people are unfairly denied occupational licenses, which approximately one quarter of America’s workers need to pursue their chosen careers. In 2016, legislation to help address these licensing barriers was introduced in at least ten states[2]. Three of those states—Georgia, Illinois, and Tennessee—successfully passed the proposed legislation, making improvements to how records are considered by licensing boards.

All people deserve a fair chance to support themselves through work, regardless of race or conviction history. Given that one in three U.S. adults—disproportionately people of color—have a prior arrest or conviction that could show up on an employment background check, reducing barriers to employment for those with records is critical. Thanks to the hard work of stakeholders, activists, and advocates around the country, 2016 saw substantial progress toward that goal—and momentum is already building for 2017.

[1] NELP documented 26 cities and counties that newly adopted ban-the-box policies in 2016: Asheville, NC; Bethlehem, PA; Birmingham, AL; Blacksburg, VA; Broward County, FL; Buncombe County, NC; Cherokee County, GA; Denver, CO; Dutchess County, NY; Henry County, VA; Jackson County, MO; Johnson County, KS; Kalamazoo, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Mecklenburg County, NC; Milwaukee, WI; Montgomery County, VA; North Las Vegas, NV; Phoenix, AZ; Pulaski County, AR; Sacramento, CA; San Antonio, TX; Sarasota, FL; Staunton, VA; Tempe, AZ; Tompkins County, NY; and Wake County, NC. However, additional localities of which NELP is currently unaware may also have adopted a policy.

[2] Alabama S.B. 327; Georgia S.B. 367; Illinois H.B. 5973 & S.B. 42; Kansas H.B. 2677; Maryland S.B. 923/H.B. 979; New York S.2096/A.2734; Oklahoma H.B. 2585; Tennessee S.B. 2594/H.B. 2496; Vermont H.728; and Wisconsin A.J.R. 116.

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About the Author

Beth Avery

Areas of expertise:
  • Criminal Records & Employment

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