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Atlanta decides to ‘Ban the Box’

Metro ATL

Atlanta decides to ‘Ban the Box’

Atlanta City Hall. Photo by Bbenrath, obtained via Wikimedia Commons

Atlanta City Hall. Photo by Bbenrath, obtained via Wikimedia Commons

By Kim Hutcherson, contributor

Atlanta’s City Council has officially banned “the Box” – the question that asks a job applicant to reveal whether he or she has ever been convicted of a crime.

Earlier this month, the Council approved a measure stating that prospective hires will not have to disclose criminal history when applying for most City jobs.  Sponsored by District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall, the legislation formally codified what has effectively been the practice for both Atlanta and Fulton County for a couple of years.

“The measure opens doors to job interviews and employment for segments of our population, doors that had been closed to them,” Hall told Decaturish.  “It also keeps our city government in the forefront of American cities with progressive human resource- and employment-policies.”

Atlanta is now the most recent of a string of state- and local-governments to embrace this policy.  In the last two years, thirteen US states and 69 county- or city-governments have banned early inquiries about criminal history.

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It’s all part of the “Ban the Box” campaign, spearheaded by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). The group says questions about previous convictions amount to an unfair barrier to employment, because the stigma of criminal history can leave an otherwise-qualified candidate in the reject-pile.

NELP does not argue that criminal history should never be revealed.  They agree that background checks are critical for certain security positions or for work involving money, children or the elderly.  But criminal history is irrelevant for many jobs, they argue, and could be revealed later in the application process.  This gives prospective hires a chance to make a good impression, explain the circumstances of their crime or show that they have been rehabilitated.

In 2012, guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission endorsed the removal of criminal history questions from job applications.  Employers should individually assess applicants, according to the guidelines, and demonstrate that any hiring-restrictions based on criminal convictions are related specifically to the job in question.

In January, State Representative Keisha Waites (D- District 60) introduced a bill stating that questions about prior convictions could not be asked until the first interview.   HB 813 didn’t make it out of the House Committee on Industry and Labor.

And in May, Governor Nathan Deal indicated that he would sign an executive order that implemented Ban the Box legislation at a state level and encouraged it for private employers.  So far, no such order has been issued by the governor.  Calls to the governor’s office had not been returned at press time.

The “Ban the Box” campaign has been endorsed in opinion-pieces published by the New York Times, Fortune and Bloomberg.

Major retail employers like Target, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond have removed questions about previous criminal convictions from their applications, as well.