Soapbox

Why it’s good for employers to ‘ban the box’

Pastor James Carr of Associated Prison Ministries in Sacramento helps ex-inmates find jobs. Four years ago, California passed a law prohibiting public agencies from asking about job applicants’ criminal history until later in the hiring process. Now Assemblyman Kevin McCarty wants to expand that law to private employers.
Pastor James Carr of Associated Prison Ministries in Sacramento helps ex-inmates find jobs. Four years ago, California passed a law prohibiting public agencies from asking about job applicants’ criminal history until later in the hiring process. Now Assemblyman Kevin McCarty wants to expand that law to private employers. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

The California Assembly will soon vote on the Fair Chance Act to “ban the box” so that job applicants with a past conviction can still get a fair shake at landing a job.

Some assume that postponing any criminal background query until later in the hiring process will harm businesses. But as an employer who long ago banned the box, I can say that, if anything, my business has benefited.

I’m the president of Give Something Back Workplace Solutions, a profitable and growing office supply company based in Oakland. We have 85 full-time employees and over the past 25 years have employed hundreds of workers. My company is in a competitive industry, so our hiring philosophy is simple: Find and retain productive and easily trained workers who can help us prosper. That means drawing from a broad and diverse talent pool – not blindly weeding out potentially excellent candidates at step one simply because they checked a box asking about conviction record. We look at a person’s qualifications first, and if the person seems like a good fit, we make a job offer. Then we run a background check, if needed. It’s not a burdensome process, it doesn’t slow us down and we’ve rarely found it necessary to rescind a job offer.

In fact, we’ve found that employees with criminal records are just as motivated, loyal and successful as those without records. Most importantly, safety hasn’t suffered and we have never had workplace problems due to an employee’s prior record. And let’s set the record straight: Assembly Bill 1008 will not prevent businesses from running thorough background checks and deciding whom to hire.

Passing AB 1008 will make California the 10th state to ban the box for private employers. Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities have already done so. San Francisco surveys thousands of employers each year and reports overwhelming compliance.

Nearly one in three U.S. adults has an arrest or conviction record, the vast majority for nonviolent offenses. Ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to work benefits our communities, strengthens our economy and improves public safety.

Mike Hannigan is president of Give Something Back Workplace Solutions in Oakland. He can be contacted at mhannigan@givesomethingback.com.

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