Finding employment with a criminal record is a struggle one in three adults in America faces. The Quarterly Journal of Economics reports that only 39% of employers are comfortable hiring someone who has been in trouble with the law. Although considerations like safety insurance policies can improve this number, some states have adopted a “Ban the Box” initiative to increase employment opportunities for people with prior offenses. So, what is Ban the Box, and how does it measure up in paving the way for employment after a criminal charge?
What Is Ban the Box?
Questions about criminal history used to be the standard on employment applications. A section would ask if the applicant had been either charged or convicted of a crime. Sometimes this would exclude misdemeanors or traffic citations but would usually request a description of the offense if the answer was yes. Employers could easily weed out any applications that indicated a criminal history, making it difficult for anyone with a record to find legitimate job opportunities.
Even those who were willing to hire someone with a record would often reduce the wage range for that individual or limit what roles they could fill in the company. This led to employment issues for many Americans, forcing them to take labor-intensive positions and limiting their income potential. With a well-established link between poverty and crime, this system creates additional barriers for anyone attempting to leave their past behind and improve their circumstances.
Ban the Box policies were created to ensure a prior offense doesn’t have lasting effects on employment opportunities. The “box” refers to the yes or no question regarding criminal history. Since applications are often the first contact with a potential employer, removing this question gives applicants the opportunity to progress further into the hiring process before being asked about any charges or convictions. Being able to demonstrate practical qualifications for the position and establish a relationship with the employer can sometimes override feelings of unease over hiring someone with a record.
Why Would a Drug Offense Affect Employability?
Violent offenses are often the highest concern for many employers, but drug-related offenses can also trigger applicant discrimination. Companies seek reliable employees who will project the business’ values and ethics. The stigma surrounding drug use can create an impression that goes against these essentials. Employers may worry about availability issues stemming from continued drug use or future criminal activity reflecting poorly on the company. They could even decide acknowledgment of drug-related crime is evidence of dishonesty.
Even if the applicant’s in recovery, this judgment of character can be so impactful that the company may pass over them for less qualified individuals. In many cases, this happens before any meaningful interaction occurs with the hiring manager. This results in lost opportunities and career limitations that can be difficult to overcome. Although there are some jobs that hire felons, they often fall into industries that require low-skill, high-labor work with little room for advancement. This is why a Ban the Box initiative can be such an effective tool for improving work prospects for anyone with a drug-related criminal history.
Arguments Against Ban the Box Policies
Although implementing a Ban the Box policy has been shown to help close the employment gap for individuals with a criminal record, the concept is subject to criticism. Employers worry that eliminating questions about prior criminal offenses exposes their business to liability for any future criminal activity that involves customers or other employees. There is also concern that future criminal actions could reflect poorly on the company if the individual responsible is connected to the brand.
Some argue that an impression of disproportionate offenses committed by minorities can cause Ban the Box initiatives to further limit employment opportunities for members of minority groups without criminal records. If employers cannot ask about prior offenses, it’s possible that they could limit a larger percentage of minorities from the hiring process as a broad prevention measure. Rather than weighing specific data when selecting applications, companies are left to fall back on general statistical data that is often interpreted through a biased lens.
Although these perspectives are worthy of consideration, it’s important to note that Ban the Box policies do not prevent an employer from ever asking about criminal history. Instead, it moves this inquiry to later in the hiring process, ensuring the hiring manager has a more complete picture of the candidate’s qualifications before deciding on whether to proceed.
Ban the Box Initiative Impacts
Many states have implemented Ban the Box policies for government positions, but the list is smaller for those that also include private employers. Currently, 13 states have Ban the Box initiatives in place for private employers:
- Colorado, New Jersey and Vermont completely exclude criminal history questions.
- Connecticut and Minnesota offer some exceptions to this rule.
- In Massachusetts, some crimes cannot be discussed at all.
- Rhode Island’s policy only applies to employers with at least four employees.
- Oregon prohibits criminal conviction from being the sole basis for denying employment, while Washington State and Washington D.C. prohibit background checks until an applicant is either qualified or offered a position.
- Hawaii also limits background checks and additionally limits criminal questions that employers can ask after extending an employment offer.
- California employers with at least five employees are allowed criminal inquiries and background checks after making a job offer.
- Illinois employers can conduct a background check after an interview or job offer.
Another 25 states have Ban the Box initiatives governing public employers. In some states that have not created Ban the Box policies, local jurisdictions may have ordinances in place.
Your Career Isn’t Over
Considering the extra challenges addiction can create in employment opportunities, recovery is an important first step. If you’re struggling with addiction or need additional support to maintain your recovery, please reach out to FHE Health for help today. Contact us at (844) 299-0618, and we’ll provide you with the tools you need to address your addiction or mental health issues so you can start rebuilding your career.