A new concept in employment law sweeping the nation has arrived in Missouri, signaling the end of the criminal background check in the pre-employment process.
The movement is called “Ban the Box”, as in the box on an employment application that asks if the applicant has been convicted of a major crime. Liberal politicians see the question as limiting the ability of a person convicted of a felony from acquiring work, which they believe causes offenders to relapse into a life of crime. Employer advocates, like Associated Industries of Missouri, have warned that employers must be able to check the backgrounds of potential employees to protect their other employees and provide a safe work environment and that eliminating the question from early in the process at the very least wastes the time and resources of the employer and the potential employee.
So far, five states and more than 60 local jurisdictions have made it illegal to conduct criminal background checks on job applicants until late in the hiring process, often until after the business has offered the applicant a position. Usually, however, the prohibition applies to public employment in government jobs.
The city of Columbia is the latest to enact a version of the legislation. It’s city council Monday night unanimously approving an ordinance prohibiting private sector employers from asking applicants about criminal histories or conducting background checks before making a conditional job offer.
The Columbia council’s stance on the issue was summed up by Councilman Ian Thomas.
“I think our criminal justice system has a lot of flaws in it,” said Thomas. “That system disadvantages the same people over and over again.”
This week, State Senator Jamila Nasheed filed Senate Bill 44 that makes it unlawful for any company in the state with six or more employees to conduct a criminal background check before an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. Sen. Nasheed’s bill also specifies that employers may not disqualify applicants at any point in the hiring process if the applicant committed a felony 10 years or more previous, or a misdemeanor five years and more ago. The bill also stipulates that the crime must “bear a rational relationship to the duties of the position” in order for an employer to withdraw a job offer.
The “Ban the Box” movement is a new danger to the business community. It takes away the principle of hiring at will, and exposes companies, their customers and employees to possible crimes. The law makes workplace safety the responsibility of the employer, but ordinances and laws such as these tie the hands of responsible employers.
“It should be left up to individual business owners how they conduct their business and who they hire,” said Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri. “Often, discussing the circumstances surrounding an applicant’s conviction can prove to be beneficial both for the company and for the applicant.”
“The ‘Ban the Box’ laws take away that choice and the chance for a reformed individual to explain the circumstances surrounding the offense. A potential employee could explain steps they have taken to rehabilitate, or other factors the employer may wish to consider, in the interview process, but the ordinance and this law would take that chance away. In fact, the Columbia ordinance would prevent an employer from checking publicly available sources of information for criminal histories, which are available to all citizens. Employers violating such ordinances or laws could be liable for lawsuits, which we believe is the real impetus behind this movement. It is not only bad public policy – it is dangerous for employers and employees,” said McCarty.