People with Records Deserve a Fair Chance to Secure Employment

It’s time to remove barriers to employment and give working people with records a second chance.

Last month, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation that bars employers from asking about applicants’ past arrests or convictions until after they demonstrate their qualifications for the job. Washington is now the 11th state — and the first this year — to require public and private employers to delay asking about an applicant’s record. Overall, 31 states and more than 150 cities and counties in America have taken steps to remove barriers to employment and give working people with records a second chance.

It’s a commonsense step — and major employers have recognized that.

Companies like Target, Starbucks, and Koch Industries have had these policies in place for years. Two years ago, President Obama launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge, and more than 100 employers and higher education institutions that believe in second chances have signed on.

In April 2016, Obama also announced that the Office of Personnel Management was directing some federal agencies to ban the box on job applications — an important step that opened the door for the federal government to be a model employer and gain access to a vast untapped pool of human capital.

But more must be done. Today, 70 million adults living in the United States — almost one in three adults — has an arrest or conviction history that will show up on a routine criminal background check. And unfortunately, many employers continue to use blanket prohibitions and questions about arrest or conviction history — excluding all applicants with prior records from employment before even considering their actual job qualifications.

One study conducted in New York City demonstrated that a disclosure of a criminal record of an otherwise qualified applicant can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. Such hiring practices often have an even more acute impact on individuals from low-income communities of color due to the racial profiling and discriminatory practices that persist at all stages of the American justice system.

Last April, Sen. Cory Booker, D. N.J., introduced bipartisan legislation — the Fair Chance Act — that would apply fair chance principles to hiring by the federal government and federal contractors. It doesn’t prevent federal agencies or federal contractors from considering criminal history; it only delays consideration of criminal history so that all applicants are afforded a fair chance at consideration for employment. It includes exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history before the conditional stage is required by law.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D. Md., and Darrell Issa, R. Calif., introduced companion legislation in the House last April as well — but neither chamber of Congress has passed this crucial legislation.

States, cities, and counties — and large employers — have been leading the way on fair chance hiring policies. Now it’s time for Congress to take action, stand up for second chances, and ensure that hiring practices are fair for all people in America.


This post is the fourth in a series of four stories published in commemoration of Second Chance Month. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a Second Chance Month partner and believes that together we can unlock brighter futures for the 65 million people in America who have repaid their debt to society.