May 2, 2013 / Workforce Access

MD is ninth state to ‘Ban the Box’ from state job applications

by Caryn York

A new law championed by JOTF is giving some Marylanders a renewed shot at employment. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the state’s “Ban the Box” legislation on May 2, making Maryland the ninth state to eliminate a requirement that prospective employees check a box on job applications to indicate whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

After four long years of urging Maryland lawmakers to remove the “box,” the victory is a welcome accomplishment. Today, more than one in four adults – roughly 65 million Americans – have some sort of criminal record. In Maryland, this means nearly 1 million adults face discriminatory barriers, such as the arrest/conviction question on state job applications, to securing stable employment.

It is increasingly difficult for low-skill, low-wage workers to advance in the workplace. For Marylanders with criminal records, securing sustainable employment with family-supporting wages is even more difficult. Job seekers with criminal records are often denied employment consideration because of their past, regardless of how minor or dated their offense. This law aims to reduce that employment barrier by removing the question from initial job applications so candidates have an opportunity to interview and prove their qualifications before a background check occurs.

A criminal conviction should not automatically disqualify a hardworking, talented candidate if they are otherwise eligible for a job. The ability to secure employment is crucial to the successful reintegration of those returning from incarceration. Recidivism declines steadily over time and research shows that reoffending risks are highest in the three to five years following incarceration. People with prior convictions who are able to secure employment are more likely to succeed in transitioning back into their communities.

This new law gives applicants an opportunity to explain their conviction in person and allows a hiring manager to make a thoughtful decision based on the person’s merit and skill, rather than unilaterally dismissing them because they checked a box. The law removes the question from the initial job application unless there is a statutory requirement to run a background check or the Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) determines that the specific duties and responsibilities of a position would require an initial background check. The question also remains on the initial application for positions within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance on how employers may use criminal records in their hiring decisions, acknowledging the discriminatory nature of imposing blanket bans on hiring or considering an applicant with a prior conviction history. Maryland has taken a huge step in ending this widely-practiced discrimination and encouraging fair hiring practices in state employment for all job seekers.

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