On Nov. 2, President Obama unveiled a new executive order that will prevent federal agencies from asking job candidates about their criminal backgrounds on job applications.
Several state legislatures have passed so-called “ban the box” initiatives, which refer to a checkbox that typically appears on job applications in which employers ask if applicants have a criminal record.
Ban-the-box advocates say that such criminal inquiries early in the application process unfairly filter out otherwise qualified applicants. They say racial minorities—who make up about 30% of the population but 60% of those in prison—are disproportionately affected.
“It is relevant to find out whether somebody has a criminal record. We’re not suggesting ignore it,” Obama said in announcing the change. “What we are suggesting is that when it comes to the application, give folks a chance to get through the door. Give them a chance to get in there so they can make their case.
Momentum for state ban-the-box legislation has grown quickly in recent years. So far, 19 states representing nearly every region of the country have adopted such policies: California (2013, 2010), Colorado (2012), Connecticut (2010), Delaware (2014), Georgia (2015), Hawaii (1998), Illinois (2014, 2013), Maryland (2013), Massachusetts (2010), Minnesota (2013, 2009), Nebraska (2014), New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010), New York (2015), Ohio (2015), Oregon (2015), Rhode Island (2013), Vermont (2015), and Virginia (2015).
Seven states have passed laws that require the conviction history question be removed from private employers’ job applications: Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Several other states and cities are looking to pass “ban the box” laws. Similar legislation on the federal level is pending in Congress, but it is not expected to advance this year.