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An Argument in Favor of Banning the Box

If you've not yet heard of Ban the Box rules, it's only because you've heard it under a different name. In New York we call it the Fair Chance Act, for example, but the practical effect is the same. As an employer, you must not check an applicant's criminal background, nor ask about it, until an offer has employment has been made, with a few narrow exceptions.

This is a trend that is cropping up increasingly throughout the country, and as it has gained popularity, I've heard a lot of complaints from hiring managers and business owners about why it's a bad law. I have this conversation all the time, so I'd like to take a moment to discuss why arrest records and criminal history are terrible factors to consider in many hiring circumstances.

Firstly, arrests do not equal convictions. They are not admissions of guilt, or definitive proof of wrongdoing. They are often deployed when it appears that a person may have been involved in a crime, and it is left to the courts to make final determinations. Since the arrest isn't the last word on this person's behavior, why would you use it to decide whether a person has good character?

In fact, there are a lot of factors outside of criminality that affect whether a person will get arrested at some point in their lifetime. Things like the neighborhood they live in, socioeconomic status and yes, their racial background. There have been a lot of great studies done on how the deck can be stacked against people unfairly, so I won't litigate that here. Instead, I'll refer you to an analysis in The Atlantic, which I think does a consistently good job in dissecting this issue.

So how does the business owner overcome their dilemma? It's not as bad as it seems. The law doesn't require you to ignore criminal history altogether. If you're trying to hire someone to handle cash, and the applicant was convicted of money laundering, you're well within your rights to take a pass on that person. However, a blanket refusal to consider someone who has a past conviction is a loss for you, too. I'd like you to consider the case of Dave's Killer Bread.

You've probably seen their bread in your local grocery store. What you might not know is that they are a company that specifically seeks to staff their business with individuals with criminal backgrounds. They believe in giving people second chances, and that in doing so they can improve their employees lives, their communities, and their company as well. You can't argue with results, either: they are the top organic bread company in the US, and they have a great atmosphere at their Breadquarters (snicker), at which one third of their staff have a criminal background.

As a business owner or hiring manager, you want the people who are going to do the best for you and work tirelessly for your mission. It's a loss to you to shut these people out of your hiring process, but also your community. And, at the end of the day, it's out of compliance, so update your applications and hiring processes, and do the right thing. It takes some getting used to, but I promise you, it will be worth it.

As always, I'm keen to hear what the readers think, especially if you have a story of someone making good after being given a second chance. There's nothing better than an impactful story to help drive cold statistics home. Leave your comments below!

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