Those with a criminal record know that ramifications of their conviction last long past the time after a jail sentence is served or a fine is paid. For most, every job application in the future is a sad reminder of the past as soon as their eyes meet the inevitable question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” The options are few: 1) either lie and pray the employer doesn’t run a background check, 2) be honest and have the application immediately tossed out or 3) put down the pen right there and walk out. Genesee County, Michigan is aiming to give qualified applicants with a past an equal chance at gainful employment with a proposal that is heading to their Board of Commissioners on December 4th.
The proposal to eliminate the question about criminal history only applies to applications for jobs with the County, but it’s a positive sign for some equal employment groups and the National Employment Law Project, which aims to make the elimination of the criminal history question the norm across the United States.
What Does the Proposal Include?
Currently in Genesee, applicants for positions with the city are asked about their criminal history on the initial application. Answering yes supposedly doesn’t exclude the applicant from an interview, or even a hire, but the proposal aims to give an applicant the chance to show they’re qualified for a job and not banned just for one question. The specifics of the proposal state:
- No individual shall be excluded from employment based solely on a criminal conviction unless state or federal laws express so. The applicant must also be given the opportunity to explain the circumstances behind the conviction.
- County offices may not delve into or acquire about an applicant’s criminal conviction until the person is determined to be a candidate for the position and to whom a conditional employment offer is going to be made.
- County offices must inform the applicant on the initial application that a criminal history check will be necessary if a conditional employment offer is going to be made.
Basically, what the proposal does is eliminate the stigma associated with an applicant who has a criminal history on their initial application. If the proposal passes, the question would be taken off, and applicants would be entitled to a sit-down interview as part of the normal process. If the candidate is deemed qualified for the job, the county board will decide on making a conditional employment offer, at which time a background check will be run for safety and insurance purposes. The potential employee will be brought in to explain their conviction.
If a person has been convicted of serious offenses in the past or has a history of workplace violence or drug offenses, it’s still very possible that they will not be offered a job. Still, just being granted an interview and a chance to explain the situation can be seen as a benchmark to people who are used to having their applications instantly thrown in the trash when their criminal history is revealed. The proposal will be voted upon sometime this month.