February 15th, 2013

Despite positive news about the job market, many people are still having trouble finding permanent employment. Many displaced from the market due to the latest recession are developing new skills to compete in a changing market, and new graduates are hard-pressed to find jobs that will help in paying off student loans.

For those who have been unemployed for long periods of time, the plight gets tougher because employers may assume that something is wrong with the candidate. They assume that if other potential employers have passed, why should we give him (or her) a chance.

Then there are job-seekers with criminal records. They have the toughest road to employment because of the public stigma attached to those convicted of a crime. Indeed, a criminal record could alert an employer of someone who may not have the patience and customer service skills necessary to help an organization. However, there are smart, able candidates with criminal backgrounds who cannot outrun their past mistakes simply because their records are flagged.

A number of employers include questions on their applications asking this question, but some may run afoul of Minnesota’s “Ban the Box” law. Essentially, public employers cannot use the presence of criminal records as a reason to eliminate candidates before conducting an interview. However, private employers are not bound by statute to this practice and may continue to use criminal records as a screening tool.

However, public sentiment has leaned towards requiring employers to at least make a “good faith” determination as to whether a criminal record is an actual detriment to employment. In fact the EEOC recommended that as a “best practice”, employers should refrain from asking about convictions on job applications altogether. If they do so later in the consideration process, it should be relevant to the job they would be performing.

Nevertheless, the consideration of criminal records could be a employment practice if conducted improperly.

Source: Newark, New Jersey Patch – Proposed law would ban criminal check box on job applications, February 8, 2013; National Employment Law Project, Resource Guide, November 2012

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