The District of Columbia Bans the Box

In a unanimous decision, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to “ban the box.” The Fair Criminal Records Screening Act (Bill 20-642), prohibits employers from asking a job applicant about any criminal convictions until a conditional job offer has been extended. The employer is also prohibited from asking about an applicant’s arrest record.

If an employer decides to withdraw their offer of employment after hearing of the applicant’s criminal record, it must be supported by a “legitimate business reason.” Some factors that an employer can use to determine if they have a legitimate business reason are:

  • How the criminal offense(s) for which the applicant was convicted affect the applicant’s ability to perform the duties to which they were hired.
  • How much time has passed since the criminal offense(s)
  • The frequency and seriousness of the criminal offense(s)

Advocacy and Opposition

Those in favor of banning the box feel that this legislation will help give ex-offenders a fair shot at employment. Most ex-offenders return to a life of crime due to the frustration of not being able to find work. It is estimated that 60,000 residents living in the District of Columbia, 10 percent of the population, have a criminal record. Advocates are quick to point out that the proposed law would not apply to sensitive jobs such as providing services to children or vulnerable adults.

Opponents argue that this bill will keep employers from adequately screening applicants. Because employers cannot find out about an applicant’s criminal history until after an offer is made, if a conviction is a deal breaker (ex: if the applicant would need to enter customer’s homes), employers will have to start the hiring process over again and previous applicants may no longer be available or interested. Companies with more than one location also need to consider that there could be different regulations depending on the legislation in that location.

Where Ban the Box Goes From Here

The bill will now head to the District of Columbia’s Mayor Vincent Gray for his signature and then to Congress for approval. If this bill becomes law, the District of Columbia will join 12 other states to pass ban the box legislation.

For more information on Ban the Box, check here.


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