On October 10, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 218 into law and now California joins nine states and over 50 cities across the United States that have adopted this type of legislation, generally titled “Ban the Box.”  The bill prohibits companies from requesting criminal background information on the initial employment application for local and state government employees.  The goal of this bill, like all the ones signed into law by other states, is to reduce the unnecessary barriers to employment for those persons who have an arrest or conviction record.

The bill removes any inquiry into a conviction history on an initial job application and will now delay the ability to conduct a criminal background check until the employer has made a determination about the applicant’s qualification.  If the applicant meets the job requirements, then the check can move forward.

There are certain instances under this new bill that criminal history may be requested on the initial employment application, depending on the position being applied for.  These positions include law enforcement; any position working with children, the elderly or the disabled; or any other position deemed sensitive in nature.  The nature of the Bill 218 only affects when, and not whether, employers may consider criminal conviction history for employment purposes.

The idea behind the bill is to deter employers from simply refusing an applicant based on the sole fact that they have a criminal record, without exploring the nature of the offense further.  Under the EEOC’s guidance from 2012, a company must take into account the nature of the offense before deciding if adverse action is necessary.  By banning the box, this gives another safeguard to at least allowing an applicant to move past the first stage of the employment process.  At the discretion of the employer, they will then run the criminal background check and determine whether or not the information discovered is at all relatable to the job being applied for.

Banning the box is an encouraging step towards employers providing opportunities to persons looking to get back on their feet and leave their past behind them.  It allows for a qualified job seeker, regardless of criminal history, to have the opportunity to compete fairly for employment.   The nature of the criminal background check remains the same however, which provides an employer the information to make a full informed decision on an applicant that has proven, based on skill, to be qualified for a position.

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