Philadelphia will soon adopt legislation that will prohibit employers from asking about criminal history on an employment application.
The measure, which is attempting to “ban the box” has been brought forward by civil rights groups to allow ex-offenders a second chance for gainful employment. Benjamin Todd Jealous, President of the NAACP, states that “Americans believe in second chances. We believe that when somebody has paid their debt to society, they deserve the right to earn a living.”
Employers may still inquire into an applicant’s criminal history while in the interview stage, and can verify charges and conviction by conducting an employment background check. Governor M. Jodi Rell (Connecticut) attempted to veto a similar bill that was passed by the state legislature last year, stating the bill was “vague” and “job applicants were already protected by anti-discrimination laws.” The Connecticut legislature did not agree and overturned the Republican Governor’s veto on October 1, 2010.
Other cities like Chicago and Boston have adopted similar laws, but only for public-sector employers; the Philadelphia bill will apply to most public and private employers.
Statistics show that 65 million Americans (or one in four) have a criminal history. According to the National Employment Law Project, 90% of U.S. employers conduct criminal background checks as part of their employment screening. Supporters of the bill argue that stable employment “will help ex-offenders straighten out their lives, and save tax dollars that would otherwise go toward supporting them in or out of prison”.
Detractors to the bill have argued that Philadelphia has already offered tax breaks to employers who hire ex-offenders and fear employers will face more anti-discrimination lawsuits under the new law.
We will continue to monitor this legislation and update our clients with developments.