Why Obama's Second Chances Speech Matters To Employers

Max Wesman

"America is a nation of second chances."

President Obama spoke those words in a July video address delivered as he commuted the sentences of 46 people serving extended sentences (20 years to life) for nonviolent drug offenses.

Yet the reality for millions of adults (nearly 1 in 3) who have criminal records can be very different, particularly when it comes to finding work. In a speech on criminal justice reform delivered the same week, the President expressed support for a movement designed to change that.

"Let's follow the growing number of our states and cities and private companies who have decided to "˜ban the box' on job applications so that former prisoners who have done their time and are now trying to get straight with society have a decent shot in a job interview," he said.

What Ban-The-Box Means For Your Company

Ban-the-box legislation prohibits employers from asking about criminal convictions on job applications. A few ban-the-box laws require that background checks be run only once a candidate is in serious consideration for a job.

If you operate in one of the 18 states or 100 cities and counties that have passed ban-the-box statutes, you need to comply with the rules that are in place, of course.

Even if your state or municipality hasn't passed ban-the-box rules, though, there are still good reasons to consider how you approach criminal history questions.

For one thing, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) commission released enforcement guidelines in 2012 to address the consideration of criminal records in hiring. The goal of the guidelines is to make sure that background information isn't used to discriminate. (The EEOC gives a good explanation of the discrimination angle here.)

And there's increasing pressure for a federal ban-the-box policy from organizations such as the National Employment Law Project. Many private companies, including Target, Walmart, and Koch Industries have already dropped criminal history questions from their job applications.

What Ban The Box Doesn't Mean

Ban-the-box laws don't prevent you from considering criminal records when making hiring decisions. You can still conduct background checks on current and prospective employees (as long as they're used at the right stage of the process).

And you can still consider the implications of a criminal record on the position, particularly for sensitive roles such as those that involve working with children or handling financial information. Remember that background screening for employment purposes must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Ban-the-box rules don't mean that you have to hire someone who has a criminal record. (GoodHire offers resources to help you comply with the FCRA if you decide not to hire someone because of what you find in their background report.)

However, in many cases, ban-the-box does require you to consider whether or not the record is relevant to the job, how long ago the offense was committed, and/or whether the candidate is the right fit for the job despite the criminal conviction.

The Future Of Fair-Chance Hiring

The growing support for fair-chance hiring and ban-the-box legislation gives millions of people with a criminal past a better shot at a return to financial stability and to contributing to their communities.

After all, for job seekers with criminal records, there is no real second chance without employers.

Photo Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

Max Wesman

Max Wesman


Max Wesman leads all aspects of GoodHire services, from strategy to product development and design, to legal compliance, to customer support. Before joining GoodHire, he launched enterprise and small business software solutions for Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

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