Ohio Adopts Fair-Hiring Policy for Jobseekers with Records

Seventeenth state to “ban the box”; applicants with convictions now have fair chance at state employment

Washington, DC—The State of Ohio today became the 17th state to adopt a fair-chance hiring policy for jobseekers with records, removing questions about arrests and convictions from the state employment application and postponing such inquiries until later in the hiring process. Commonly known as “ban the box” (referring to the check-box asking about convictions), this is one item on a menu of fair-chance hiring reforms designed to ensure that applicants are evaluated on their qualifications first, and not solely on past mistakes.

In addition to removing the check-box from its job application, Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services will now require that every hiring decision-maker weigh important relevant factors (such as the age of the offense, its relatedness to the job, and evidence of rehabilitation) before rejecting a qualified worker because of a past record. The new policy, in a state with a Republican, John Kasich, as governor, will affect 250,000 applications for state jobs and 4,000 positions each year in Ohio and shows the growing, bi-partisan support for fair-chance measures.

An estimated 70 million U.S. adults—almost one in three—have a record that will show up on a background check. This creates a serious barrier to employment for millions of workers. Ohio joins 16 other states and more than 100 cities and counties that have sought to mitigate this barrier with a fair-chance hiring policy, including three states—Georgia, Vermont, and Virginia—that have done so in the past year. Similar legislation has passed in the Oregon House, and is awaiting a vote in the state’s Senate.

A powerful organizing and policy collaborative in Ohio has worked for years to bring fair-chance reform to local cities and counties, with successes in 13 municipalities. The coalition, which includes the Ohio Justice & Policy Center and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, is also supporting pending legislation, The Ohio Fair Hiring Act (House Bill 56), which would apply to local governments.

“We are proud of how our state government took the initiative to enact the fair-hiring policy that we, together with hundreds of grassroots organizers, have been championing for several years,” said Stephen Johnson Grove, deputy director with the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. “Instead of just removing the question from the job application, the Department of Administrative Services is requiring the decision-makers to weigh common-sense factors that will ensure only recent and relevant convictions are taken into account in the hiring decision,” explained Johnson Grove. OJPC has estimated that one in six Ohioans, or more than 16 percent of the available workforce, has a misdemeanor or felony record.

Kea Mathis, an organizing leader with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative in Akron, Ohio, said, “I love the statewide policy because I am now considered a regular applicant with equal employment possibilities. Most importantly, with the passing of the policy, I have a better chance of providing for myself.”

“We applaud the State of Ohio’s commitment to reducing employment barriers for the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans who are seeking the opportunity to work and contribute to their communities,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “This hiring practice is just common-sense. Jobseekers should be judged on their skills and qualifications, rather than being judged solely on a past mistake.”

Ohio is the 17th state to implement a fair-chance policy, along with more than 100 cities and counties and the District of Columbia. More than 100 million people now live in jurisdictions where job applicants with records are judged on their merits, not just their arrest and conviction records. Several national companies, including Koch Industries, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Bed Bath & Beyond, have similarly removed the conviction question from their initial application forms.

The movement toward fair-chance hiring in the states parallels a similar effort at the federal level. More than 70 U.S. representatives and 27 U.S. senators have called on President Obama to take immediate executive action to ensure that federal agencies and federal contractors remove unnecessary barriers to employment for people with records. The support for this action is broad: nearly 200 civil rights, faith-based organizing, criminal justice, and social justice reform groups have also called upon President Obama to do the same.

To help advocates and policymakers take advantage of the growing momentum, NELP has released a comprehensive fair-chance toolkit.

For Immediate Release: June 1, 2015
Contact: Daniel Massey, Daniel@berlinrosen.com, 646-200-5323

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