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.

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:

Contact Michelle Natividad Rodriguez at mrodriguez@nelp.org for assistance.

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

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.

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: Fair Chance Licensing Reform Takes Hold in the States summarizes 2018 legislative updates in occupational licensing. New bills have been signed into law in Delaware, Indiana, and Massachusetts, and legislation is awaiting the signature of the Governors of Maryland and Tennessee. Additional bills worth noting have been introduced in the District of Columbia and at least three states (including California, Kansas, and Rhode Island).

The toolkit: Fair Chance Licensing Reform: Opening Pathways for People with Records to Join Licensed Professions (October 2017) 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.


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

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

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 31 states and over 150 cities and counties around the country have adopted fair-chance policies. Eleven 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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