The View from Someone Else’s Boots, 'Ban the Box' in the Workplace and Exactly What it Means to You

Criminal background check"Ban the box" is a recent initiative that is becoming rather popular in the US. This controversial initiative requires employers to reduce obstacles regarding prospective employees by delaying employers’ rights to inquire about criminal history until later in the employment process. The measure has a direct impact on former prisoners that are looking to (enter) re-enter the workforce, and at this point, even the President of the United States (POTUS) is supporting the initiative with a proposed mandate for all federal agencies.

'Banning the box' specifically refers to alleviating the check box that indicates if an employee has a criminal history. Presently, 90% of employers conduct a criminal background check during the beginning of the application process. To date, this initiative is strongly supported by several states and hundreds of cities (including many private industry employers.)

Advocates for the measure, along with various civil rights supporters are encouraging the President to champion this particular initiative primarily because it helps remove the stigma and barriers that a person with a conviction history may have to endure when re-entering the work force. It also allows the person to better reinstate themselves after serving prison time - although some private employers still feature the check mark.

What this means for people with disabilities

An estimated 70 million Americans — one in four adults — have a criminal record. It has been well documented that a large proportion of this population will be individuals with mental health disorders. In California alone, there are about 33,000 prisoners with mental health disorders, roughly 30% of the incarcerated population. The unemployment rate of ex-offenders is dire, while the rate of recidivism is a major problem and showing no signs of improvement. 2 out of 3 prisoners will return to prison within 3 years of their release. The unemployment rate of individuals with disabilities is double the national average, so many ‘Ban the Box’ advocates argue that any positive impact this has on ex-offenders abilities to successfully transition back into society will also improve the economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities too.

The President is also sorting through opportunities to reform the criminal justice system by eliminating unfair and harsh punishments for certain individuals with minor drug offenses, while improving housing, and increasing opportunities for people to gain an education upon release of incarceration. Other significant improvements include adding job opportunities for convicted felons in tech firms. The President was also the first sitting President to visit convicts in a federal prison. He also stands up for ending mass incarceration, resolving the cycle of challenges (through strategic education and alternative programs) for people (mostly located in minority communities) battling substance abuse and halting issues with police brutality.

Although controversial, national momentum towards this program is growing rapidly with states such as: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio,
Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia are all in approval. Hawaii was the first state to approve the measure.

Many stores like: Starbucks, Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Wal-Mart have joined the call, but various children's facilities, healthcare employers, legal organizations and financial firms are still prohibited from hiring a person with a criminal background. EEO officials are also edging towards in support of the measure and are now considering it for compliance.

Many studies support certain facts about the program (structured opportunities and initiatives for persons with criminal convictions does indeed improve the lives of individuals), and these types of methodologies translate into an increase of progress for their families as well. It also dramatically reduces the recidivism rate. The issues of people that apply to the mandate are proportionately people of color representing nearly 70 million individuals. Although it is considered bipartisan, the issue has also reached the presidential election with all of the democrats supporting it.

Opponents of the initiative

Although ban the box is a widely popular initiative, it still faces some employer opposition. Some employers feel that it prohibiting ban the box, keeps the work place safe, and helps prevent some discrimination lawsuits, and negligent hiring practices. Some employers also consider potential issues like employee theft and other related challenges to be a deterrent towards hiring a person without a criminal background check.

The laws support the current EEO compliance to ask about one's criminal history later in the employment process. These questions can be asked during the interview or before an official offer for employment is made. Employers are exempt to comply when the job requires working with minors or with managing or working with other vulnerable consumers.

What this program means to employers

When employee candidates are prohibited from working regular jobs, all too often they are limited to working 'under-the table' or doing the same things that can bring them right back to incarceration. Ban the box programs are not identical. Some programs are subjective to convictions of harsher penalties than other states. Laws may also be applied to judicial review of and remedial relief for violations with fines up to $500 and or imprisonment for each offense.

The value of fighting the possibility for recidivism is giving people an opportunity to have a second chance in life. Hopefully, some of these programs can make a measurable difference. Many of us have made mistakes and for someone, a second chance could truly be a needed blessing to improve quality of life for them, as well as their family.


Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.