Philadelphia to Enact “Ban the Box” Law for Employment Applications

The recently announced Philadelphia law, which will go into effect on July 17th, 2011 will “ban the box” on employment applications. The “box” in question is the question commonly found on employment applications that asks applicants to check if they’ve been convicted of a crime.

ban the box legislation

What does the “ban the box” law say, specifically?

The law applies to a person or company (private or public) that employs 10 or more people, within the city of Philadelphia. Here are the specifics:

  • Employers are barred from inquiring about a person’s criminal convictions during the application process
  • The application process begins when an individual inquires about employment and ends when the employer accepts an application from the applicant
  • Additionally, before or during the first interview, employers are not allowed to ask applicants if they have a criminal conviction history
  • Employers will be banned from taking adverse action against an applicant who has an arrest or criminal accusation that didn’t result in a conviction
  • Employers who violate the new law will be fined up to $2000 per infraction

Why the need for such a law?

The Philadelphia law is intended to expand employment opportunities for past criminal offenders who may otherwise be eliminated as soon as they turn in an application. Often, applicants will be denied based on a criminal record many years or decades old that has no bearing on the position sought. Proponents of the legislation claim that the new law will help remove some of the obstacles for qualified applicants, who may find themselves struggling with unemployment because of a past conviction.

The national “Ban the Box” trend

Nationally, Philadelphia’s law follows a growing “ban the box” trend by states and municipalities, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Minnesota. Additionally, over 25 municipalities, such as Boston, Chicago, and Atlanta have passed similar legislation. Philadelphia’s law stands out among the others passed because it includes private employers.

Does this mean you can’t perform a criminal background check?

A common misunderstanding about the law is the thought that banning the box would ban employers from checking the criminal background of their prospective employees. That is not the case. Employers still have the right to check the criminal record of an applicant but as always, that must be done only after gaining the consent of the applicant and must follow anti-discrimination laws. For more on this, read our recent blog posts:

“Background Checks Under Fire: Fair or Not”

EEOC Focus on Criminal Background Checks Underscores Importance of a Holistic Approach

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About MichaelGaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the Professional Background Screening Association (PBSA), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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