Ensuring People with Convictions Have a Fair Chance to Work

An estimated 70 million people in the United States—nearly one in three adults—have a prior arrest or conviction record. A racially biased criminal justice system and mass incarceration have severely impacted communities of color.

A conviction in one’s past shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness. NELP is working to expand fair-chance hiring laws to every corner of the nation, because everyone deserves an opportunity to work for a better life.

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Over 150 Cities & Counties and 37 States Have “Ban the Box”

Now 37 states and over 150 cities and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Of those jurisdictions, 15 states, the District of Columbia, and 21 cities and counties extend their fair-chance hiring policies to private employment.

NELP’s Ban the Box State and Local Guide documents the policies across the country.

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 is a federal “ban the box” policy that was signed into law on December 20, 2019. In partnership with grassroots organizations, Congress, and other criminal justice advocates, NELP has advocated for this crucial legislation at the federal level for years. The law prohibits federal employers and private employers that contract with the government from inquiring about conviction history until a conditional offer has been made. The law not only provides ban the box protection, but it also includes complaint and appeal procedures for any employers that violate the policy.

NELP estimates that 700,000 new applicants with records will have a fairer chance at employment when the law takes effect in 2021.

Learn more: FAQ on the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019

The Business Case for Fair-Chance Employment

Billions lost to our economy because of the poor job prospects of people with records is a real business concern, but the human potential squandered and the negative impact on our communities are the real tragedies. Employers can take concrete actions to be part of the solution. Find out more in our blog.


Fair Chance – Ban the Box Toolkit

The Fair Chance – Ban the Box Toolkit was developed to be a one-stop, comprehensive resource for advocates interested in bringing fair chance hiring reform to their communities. As a national organization, we’ve benefited from hearing from leaders and experts about their campaigns. We’ve distilled these “lessons learned” into the Toolkit. For example, included are:

New Yorkers urged passage of the NYC Fair Chance Act at a December 2014 rally by VOCAL-NY and allies.

Fair Chance Licensing Reform

More than 70 million people with a record in the United States either face significant barriers when seeking a license to work, which is now required for one in four jobs, including many good-paying jobs that are in high demand in healthcare and other industries, or—even worse—they are automatically disqualified, sometimes for life.

A license to work is now required for one in four jobs.

The fact sheet: Nationwide Trend to Reform Unfair Occupational Licensing Laws summarizes 2019 legislative updates in occupational licensing. In 2019, legislatures adopted “fair chance licensing” reforms in at least nine states: Arkansas, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah. These new laws take steps to reduce unfair occupational licensing barriers facing the 70 million people—disproportionately people of color—with arrest and conviction records. To varying degrees, the laws eliminate automatic blanket bans against people with records, expand transparency, remove vague statutory language, and adopt fairer evaluation criteria. All 50 states can and should do more to expand access to the approximately one in four jobs that require a license.

The toolkit: Fair Chance Licensing Reform: Opening Pathways for People with Records to Join Licensed Professions (December 2019) is intended to provide lawmakers and advocates in states across the country with the resources necessary to set about the work of fair chance licensing reform.

The report Unlicensed & Untapped: Removing Barriers To State Occupational Licenses For People With Records (April 2016) provides the landscape of state occupational licensing barriers and recommendations for fairer state licensing laws.


Fair-Chance Reform in the Nation is Growing Rapidly

From 2013 to 2014, more than twice as many jurisdictions adopted policies to reduce hiring barriers for qualified job seekers with a past conviction.

Note: Some jurisdictions were counted twice, because additional policies were adopted for the same jurisdiction in multiple years.

Implementation of California's AB1008 Fair Chance Hiring Laws

The California Fair Chance Act (AB 1008) took effect on January 1, 2018. The law ensures that employers fairly consider job applicants with a record by delaying when an employer can ask about an applicant’s conviction history or run a background check.

This FactSheet outlines the law and Fair Chance hiring process, and explains jobseeker rights: The California Fair Chance Act: Know Your Rights as a Jobseeker Under the New ‘Ban the Box’ Law

This Blog summarizes best practices for Employers to achieve compliance with all four California laws, and to advance statewide best practices: Fair Chance Hiring in the Golden State: 10 “Best Practices” for Employers

Unlocking Opportunity

The “Unlocking Opportunity for People with Records and Their Families” conference was held in Washington, DC on October 23-24, 2017. Links to conference videos and resources are below.

Ban the Box & Fair-Chance FAQs

A conviction in one’s past shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness.

What is “ban the box”? What is a fair-chance policy?

“Ban the box” was the rallying cry of All of Us or None organizers that refers to removing the conviction history check-box from a job application.  All of Us or None is a grassroots, civil rights organization led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people. In addition to delaying conviction history inquiries until later in the hiring process, fair-chance policies include the following:

  • Integrating the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) arrest and conviction record guidelines, which require employers to take into account time passed since the offense, whether the offense is related to the job position, and evidence of rehabilitation; and
  • Adopting strong standards of accuracy and transparency to maintain the integrity of background checks when they are required and to protect workers against arbitrary treatment in the hiring process.

Read more in NELP’s FAQ and Factsheet.

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What doesn’t a fair-chance policy do?

An employer is not required to hire an individual under a fair-chance policy. In other words, the employer retains the discretion to hire the most qualified candidate. Some fair-chance policies seek to limit background check inquiries to only those positions deemed sensitive or to limit the availability of certain criminal record information to only recent convictions. Other policies have no limitations on background check screening except as to delay any inquiries until later in the hiring process. Read more in NELP’s Best Practices and Model Policies, located in the NELP Fair Chance Toolkit.

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Do fair-chance policies work?

Yes. Fair-chance policies have been so successful that some cities and states have expanded their policies to include private employers. Because policies were adopted starting in the early 2000s, several jurisdictions have had years of experience and success. The locations that have collected data on the fair-chance policies show an increase in hiring people with records.

This is consistent with research that indicates that personal contact with an applicant reduces the negative effect of a criminal record on the employment decision. Read more in NELP’s Research Summary, located in the NELP Fair Chance Toolkit.

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Who supports fair-chance policies?

Fair-chance policies are supported by policymakers across the political spectrum, law enforcement, faith leaders, labor unions, civil rights and criminal justice reform groups, and more. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also endorsed the policy and President Obama directed federal agencies to formally adopt it.  Read more in NELP’s Voices in Support Factsheet, located in the NELP Fair Chance Toolkit.

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Who has adopted fair-chance policies?

Currently 37 states and over 150 cities and counties around the country have adopted fair-chance policies. Fifteen states and many local jurisdictions apply their policies to private employers and/or government contractors. StarbucksTarget, Walmart, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Facebook, and the Koch Industries have removed the question about convictions from their initial job applications. Read more in NELP’s Voices in Support Factsheet, located in the NELP Fair Chance Toolkit.

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FAQs that will be updated with policy changes regarding working during the pandemic with an arrest and/or conviction record.



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