Nationwide, 37 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first—without the stigma of a conviction or arrest record. Borne out of the work of All of Us or None, these policies provide applicants a fair chance at employment by removing conviction and arrest history questions from job applications and delaying background checks until later in the hiring process.

This resource guide documents the numerous states and localities that have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. A chart summarizing all state and local policies across the nation appears at the end of this guide.

The federal government embraced “ban the box” for federal agencies and contractors.

Support for fair-chance policies has gained momentum in recent years, with policies adopted at not only the state and local levels, but also by the federal government:

  • In November 2015, President Obama endorsed ban-the-box by directing federal agencies to delay inquiries into job applicants’ records until later in the hiring process.
  • In December 2019, the “Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019” became law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Effective December 2021, the law will prohibit most federal agencies and contractors from requesting information on a job applicant’s arrest and conviction record until after conditionally offering the job to the applicant. For more information, see NELP’s press release and FAQ fact sheet.

37 states, the District of Columbia, and over 150 cities and counties have adopted a ban-the-box (“fair chance”) policy.

Representing nearly every region of the country, a total of 35 states have adopted statewide laws or policies applicable to public-sector employment—Arizona (2017), California (2017, 2013, 2010), Colorado (2019, 2012), Connecticut (2016, 2010), Delaware (2014), Georgia (2015), Hawai’i (1998), Illinois (2014, 2013), Indiana (2017), Kansas (2018), Kentucky (2017), Louisiana (2016), Maine (2021), Maryland (2020, 2013), Massachusetts (2010), Michigan (2018), Minnesota (2013, 2009), Missouri (2016), Nebraska (2014), Nevada (2017), New Hampshire (2020), New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010, 2019), New York (2015), North Carolina (2020), North Dakota (2019), Ohio (2015), Oklahoma (2016), Oregon (2015), Pennsylvania (2017), Rhode Island (2013), Tennessee (2016), Utah (2017), Vermont (2016, 2015), Virginia (2020, 2015), Washington (2018), and Wisconsin (2016).

Extending fair chance policies beyond government employment to the private sector is a crucial step toward ensuring that people with records have a fair chance at employment in the majority of jobs. Numerous states and localities have taken further action by banning the box for government contractors and private employers.

15 states and 22 cities and counties extend their fair-chance laws to private employment.

    Fifteen states have mandated the removal of conviction history questions from job applications for private employers—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

  • The District of Columbia and 37 cities and counties extend their fair-chance hiring policies to government contractors (as will the federal government in 2021).
  • Twenty-two of those localities also extend their local fair-chance hiring laws to the private employers within their jurisdictions—Austin, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Columbia (MO), DeSoto (TX), the District of Columbia, Kansas City (MO), Los Angeles, Montgomery County (MD), New York City, Philadelphia, Portland (OR), Prince George’s County (MD), Rochester, San Francisco, Seattle, Spokane (WA), St. Louis, Suffolk County (NY),  Waterloo (IA), and Westchester County (NY).

Four-fifths of the U.S. population lives in a jurisdiction that has banned the box.

More jurisdictions are also adopting policies that do more than “ban the box” by removing the conviction history question from job applications. Many incorporate the best practices set forth in the 2012 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions. Others adopt innovative strategies such as targeted hiring. Robust fair-chance hiring laws delay records-related inquiries until after a conditional offer of employment and ensure a fairer decision-making process by requiring employers to consider the job-relatedness of a conviction, time passed, and mitigating circumstances or rehabilitation evidence.

Tallying up the population of the states and localities that have adopted a fair-chance law or policy, over 267 million people in the United States—more than four-fifths of the U.S. population—live in a jurisdiction with some form of ban-the-box or fair-chance policy.

Fair-chance policies benefit everyone, not just people with records, because they’re good for families, local communities, and the overall economy. At an event in Oakland for employers to discuss reentry issues, one business owner spoke to the personal benefit of hiring people with records. “I’ve seen how a job makes all the difference,” says Derreck B. Johnson, founder and president of Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland. “When I give someone a chance, and he becomes my best employee, I know that I’m doing right by my community.”

Are you looking to support a state or local effort to enact or strengthen a fair-chance policy? Check out NELP’s Fair Chance – Ban the Box Toolkit, which provides a step-by-step guide for advocates desiring to launch a ban-the-box campaign. Embedded in the toolkit is a range of resources to help draft a law, build your network, support your outreach, and develop your media plan. Here are just a few of those NELP resources:

Please visit NELP’s “fair chance licensing” webpage for information on the related topic of unfair occupational licensing restrictions that can bar people with records from entire professions before they submit a single job application.

For additional information, contact senior staff attorney Beth Avery at bavery@nelp.org

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