Banning the Box: A Gray Area for Employers?

According to recent reports, roughly one in four adults has a criminal record. As such, the momentum in support of “ban the box” legislation—i.e., legislation that restricts an employer from including a little check box on a job application asking, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”—continues to grow.

On July 14, 2014, the D.C. Council voted in favor of a bill that would restrict a private employer from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until the employer has made a conditional offer of employment. Although the bill still needs to go through the Mayor for signature, D.C. is officially one step closer to joining the other 60 cities and 12 states that have passed similar legislation.

Maryland’s “ban the box” law, for example, prohibits state public employers from inquiring into the criminal history of an applicant for employment until the applicant has been provided an opportunity for an interview. On the other hand, Virginia has remained silent on the issue, and all efforts to pass such legislation have failed in Virginia.

Various cities have enacted their own similar ban the box legislation. Baltimore, for example, banned the box and now prohibits private employers with 10 or more employees from inquiring into criminal history at the job application phase. Baltimore’s ordinance even provides for misdemeanor criminal charges and fines against an employer who violates this law.

Now that “ban the box” legislation is taking hold around the nation, employers should think twice before including that little check box at the end of their job applications. It may make sense to review your application with your lawyer so that you can remain up-to-date on the status of this evolving area of the law!