The Fair Chance / Ban the Box Toolkit

In the early 2000s, grassroots organizers in San Francisco and Boston began urging local governments to remove questions about convictions from job applications so that people can be judged first on their qualifications. Just over a decade later, over 100 jurisdictions have adopted ban-the-box and fair chance policies.

“Ban the Box,” the rallying cry of All of Us or None organizers, refers to the policy of removing the conviction history check-box from job applications. If employers must ask about convictions, they can ask later in the hiring process. As the call to “ban the box” spreads across the country, it has become a powerful movement for fair hiring.

NELP advocates for a “fair chance” hiring policy that includes removing the check-box, plus a robust set of fair hiring policies to ease employment barriers. The most effective policies don’t just delay a background check; they ensure that when background checks are required, they’re used fairly.

Many policies incorporate the 2012 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines that advise employers to make individualized assessments instead of using blanket exclusions. Employers should consider the time passed since the offense and its relevance to the job. And because background-check results may contain errors, candidates should be given an opportunity to review the results. These are straightforward, common-sense recommendations for all employers to adopt.

San Francisco’s Fair Chance Ordinance is one model of a comprehensive fair chance policy. Passed unanimously in February 2014, the ordinance requires private employers, city contractors, and some housing providers to consider applicants on their merits first, not on their past mistakes.

In a relatively short time, this movement for fair access to employment opportunities has gained impressive momentum. From 2013 to 2014, the number of jurisdictions adopting policies doubled. Now more than 100 million Americans—roughly one-third of the U.S. population—live in a jurisdiction with a ban-the-box or fair chance policy. As successful public-sector efforts pave the way for the private sector, we’re moving closer to a day when all qualified job-seekers will have an opportunity to compete fairly for work.

The number of jurisdictions that have adopted fair chance policies is constantly increasing.  For the latest number and links to the laws and policies, see NELP’s State and Local Ban the Box guide here, which is regularly updated.

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About the Authors

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez

Anastasia Christman

Areas of expertise:
  • Climate Justice,
  • Policy Analysis,
  • Procurement Policy,
  • Research,
  • Worker Organizing