By: Melissa C. Angeline
Philadelphia has become the first major city to bar private employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal background. The “Ban the Box” law, otherwise known as the Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards Act, took effect on July 12, 2011. The law has three major requirements, and covers most private employers with 10 or more employees.
1. Employers are barred from asking questions on employment applications about arrests that are not pending and did not lead to a conviction.
2. Employers cannot seek information about an applicant’s criminal convictions during the application process, such as when a job applicant asks about a job opening to when an employment application is accepted or on the application itself.
3. Employers cannot ask an applicant about any criminal conviction before or during a first interview. However, employers may ask about criminal convictions during a second interview of the applicant (if any) or as part of a conditional post-offer criminal history check.
In practical terms, this law means that employers using the same employment application in multiple locations should “black out” or remove questions about criminal history for jobs requiring work in Philadelphia. Employers also need to instruct anyone who interviews or hires employees not to ask about criminal convictions until a second interview or as part of a post-conditional offer criminal history check. Likewise, office workers that speak to callers or visitors asking about possible work, should not ask any questions about criminal backgrounds. Employers are subject to fines of $2,000 for each violation of the Act.
For employers outside Philadelphia, similar laws may be coming soon. Philadelphia’s law has been cited as a “model” by some city and county officials as far away as North Carolina. In addition, it is a hot issue for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which held a public meeting on July 26, 2011 to discuss the use of arrest and conviction records in the hiring process.
Melissa C. Angeline is senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Group of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman PC. She concentrates her practice on representing and counseling employers in all aspects of employment law.