Washington, DC enacts law to help those with criminal history get jobs

WASHINGTON DC (WUSA/CNN) – Job seekers with a criminal history often face a daunting task.

A new “ban the box” law in Washington DC aims to make things a little easier.

The “box” refers to the box applicants check on their job applications.

Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

That’s typically one of the first questions an employer asks of an applicant.

And if the answer is yes – “Many people are screened out right there, you know as soon as you see that, they don’t even get to the interview,” DC council member Tommy Wells said.

But a new law in DC will prohibit employers from asking about criminal history until after a job is offered.

“At that point, then you’ve already shown you’re qualified for the job, and you get a chance to explain yourself,” Wells said.

Their city council worked with ex-convicts, advocates, and the DC Chamber of Commerce, among others, to reach an agreement the chamber says can ultimately benefit businesses, while helping ex-cons re-integrate into society.

“Human capital is critical, and to have so many folks who are in the city, who…they’ve had a run in with the law, but yet they’re talented; they can serve businesses well,” Harry Wingo, DC Chamber of Commerce President and CEO said.

Council members say that background checks will continue to legitimately disqualify applicants from certain jobs, especially jobs that work with vulnerable populations.

For example, anyone convicted for sexual assault, child abuse, or neglect will be excluded from jobs that come in contact with children.

“If it’s related to the job, the type of crime, let’s say you held up banks and you want to be a teller. Well then, you can say, you know what, we’re not comfortable with that, so we’re not going to hire you,” Wells said.

Hiring is the goal.

Wingo says, getting ex-cons back to work can work for the city.

“We really need to make sure that we’re having full employment; that we’re having prosperity reach all parts of the city,” Wingo said.

Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Minnesota have “ban the box” laws on the books, and the governor of Illinois is also expected to sign one into law.

In fact, Hawaii was the first state to pass a “ban the box” law in 1998.

 

 

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