As we have discussed in previous articles, there is a movement that is spreading across our country called “Ban the Box.” This movement seeks to ban employers from inquiring about a job candidate’s criminal history on their applications or in preliminary interviews. Seven states and at least 43 local jurisdictions, such as counties and municipalities, have passed legislation and while most only cover city or government employees, some have extended this legislation to include private employers.
The most recent state to consider banning criminal history inquiries is Rhode Island. Recently, Representative Scott Slater, a Democrat out of Providence, introduced legislation to the state’s General Assembly. In a press release, Slater said that his bill would give job applicants “a chance to be considered on their qualifications, not immediately rejected from consideration of a wrong decision in their past for which they have paid their debt to society.”
Shockingly, the bill’s co-sponsor happens to be Republican Representative Michael Chippendale, who expressed to the Brown Daily Herald his disappointment that the media is exaggerating the bill to make it appear to ban criminal background checks across the board. Chippendale wrote, “An applicant can in fact be disqualified if there is a ‘direct relationship’ with their criminal history and the nature of the job being sought.”
Once an employer in Rhode Island has deemed an applicant as qualified for a position, they will then be able to run a criminal background check in an effort to find crimes considered in “direct relationship” to the position. If that’s found to be the case, the employer can deny the applicant the job. Furthermore, if the position is regulated by federal or state statutes prohibiting people with certain convictions from being employed, the new bill in Rhode Island would not apply.
North Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, stating on their website, “Not only is (non-compliance with federal law) a concern but there is a further concern about safety and potential employer liability.”
While removing the criminal history inquiry from job applications may assist more candidates in landing an interview, a criminal history background check is vital in protecting an employer’s business, employees and customers. It is important to note that the “Ban the Box” movement is not currently seeking to ban background checks in general, it is taking up the same opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is to make job opportunities accessible to everyone, despite what bad decisions some may have made in their past.