This article was contributed by Martha C. Andrews, Ph.D., professor of management and management department chair in the Cameron School of Business, and Jessica Mesmer-Magnus, Ph.D., professor of management.
A relatively recent trend in the world of Human Resources has been the drive to “ban the box.” What began as a grassroots effort has become new HR-related legislation adopted by a number of states.
Ban-the-box legislation refers to a set of policies designed to give ex-offenders a fair chance at employment. Historically, employers have automatically screened out applicants who have admitted to having a criminal record without first assessing the extent to which the crime was even relevant to the applicant’s viability as an employee. Since the application often represents the initial point of contact between the applicant and employer, anyone with a criminal background was usually immediately eliminated from the pool.
In states where ban-the-box laws have been adopted, employers now must remove the “Have you been convicted of a crime?” question from the employment application, forcing hiring managers to first consider each applicant on the merits of their skill set and experience. Removing this question allows employers the opportunity to gain more information about the applicant’s job-related qualifications before making a decision, and gives the ex-offender an opportunity to be considered for the position.
Much pushback to the ban-the-box initiative has come from the misunderstanding that such legislation would force employers to bring dangerous criminals into the workplace. Ban-the-box rules do not mean the questions about a criminal past cannot be asked, but it does mean that those questions along with criminal background checks should be delayed until later in the hiring process. This approach seems to make sense when the prior offense would not put others at risk in the workplace. An applicant convicted of a mild offense may still be a good fit to work in a variety of positions if the conviction is not relevant to the job or work context. However, a convicted sex offender would still not be eligible for employment as a teacher, nor would a convicted forger be eligible to be a banker.
Advocates of ban the box (for example, the National Employment Law Project) contend it is good for the community and would be highly beneficial for many of the roughly 70 million Americans who have a criminal record. Any policies that assist with reentry into the workforce will be more likely to prevent future criminal activity. Opponents (for example, the National Retail Federation) argue their businesses, customers and employees would be exposed to possible crime. Interestingly, many large employers, like Target, Koch Industries and Wal-Mart, have voluntarily banned the box nationwide to allow those with past arrests an opportunity to compete for employment.
A more extreme version of ban the box was introduced last October. The Fair Chance Act would prohibit federal agencies and contractors from inquiring about criminal histories prior to making conditional job offers. Currently, 19 states have adopted ban-the-box legislation along with numerous cities and counties nationwide. While North Carolina is not one of them, several North Carolina counties have adopted similar policies (for example, Durham and Cumberland counties). Regardless of whether your city,county or state has embraced ban the box, employers are wise to avoid having blanket policies that prohibit hiring individuals with felony convictions.
Robert T. Burrus, Jr., Ph.D., is the dean of the Cameron School of Business at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, named in June 2015. Burrus joined the UNCW faculty in 1998. Prior to his current position, Burrus was interim dean, associate dean of undergraduate studies and the chair of the department of economics and finance. Burrus earned a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Virginia and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from Wake Forest University. The Cameron School of Business has approximately 60 full-time faculty members and 20 administrative and staff members. The AACSB-accredited business school currently enrolls approximately 2,000 undergraduate students in three degree programs and 200 graduate students in four degree programs. The school also houses the prestigious Cameron Executive Network, a group of more than 200 retired and practicing executives that provide one-on-one mentoring for Cameron students. To learn more about the Cameron School of Business, please visit http://csb.uncw.edu/. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
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