It would not come as a surprise to learn that ex-criminal offenders often have a very difficult time finding employment. However, in Minnesota, a new law has been passed forbidding potential employers from requiring that applicants disclose their criminal history on their job applications.
Starting January of 2014, the new law will have eliminated the box on the employment application which asks the job seeker to specify whether or not he/she has ever been convicted of a crime, pled “no contest” to a crime, or has had prosecution deferred.
The criminal history box was a simple screening device that could close the doors on anyone with a criminal record. Employers could, at a glance, see if the applicant had any kind of criminal history and, if he/she did, simply discard the application.
It is the hope of Minnesota legislators that omitting this box will allow qualified applicants to graduate to the interview stage, giving potential employers and employees the chance to discuss the candidate’s suitability for the job in person. Also, if an applicant answered that he/she had not been convicted of a crime because of an honest misunderstanding or oversight (a juvenile offense that shouldn’t be on record, etc.), then the applicant would be immediately removed from consideration after the background check.
Ban the Box
In 2009, the “Ban-the-Box” practice was first employed in Minnesota for applicants of government jobs.
Having a criminal conviction is a stigma that can attach itself long after the sentence was served, regardless of whether or not the person convicted even spent any time in jail at all. In Minnesota, the majority of convictions do not result in a jail sentence, yet the record can tarnish a person’s ability to find gainful employment for years. Moreover, the circumstances under which the applicant was convicted are not given room for elaboration on the hiring form.
Minnesota has the highest number of probationary convictions in the country, and this phenomenon is what led to the “Ban-the-Box” bill.
Employees Will Still be Screened
The “Ban-the-Box” initiative will not allow ex-offenders to conceal their criminal past. Employers will still be able to run background checks and conduct hiring practices as they see fit. Certain fields, such as childcare, banking or pharmaceuticals, are still allowed to use applications with the criminal record disclosure option.
In Minnesota, negligent hiring practices can leave employers responsible for the safety of their employees and customers. Even though the potential employee might not have to reveal a criminal past at the outset of the hiring process, once hired, the employer is liable for any harm that might come to other employees at the hands of a staff member that was not properly screened.
Minnesota is the third state to enact a “Ban-the-Box” bill. The first two states were Massachusetts and Hawaii. The Target Corporation implemented its own similar policy nationwide.
Employees and Employers Benefit
The new law could serve employers as well as ex-offenders. Many ex-offenders have gone through vocational and hiring programs as a part of their probation and have been given the skills to conduct successful job interviews, and could potentially make valuable employees.