Why asking about convictions is a problem on job applications

A new initiative is underway to ban federal agencies from asking job applicants about prior convictions.

The move to "ban the box" has reached the federal government, with the President recently signing a memorandum that, if enacted, would prohibit many federal agencies from asking a job applicant about his or her past criminal convictions early in the hiring process, according to the Atlantic. The move is a significant step forward for the "ban the box" movement, which aims at expanding the opportunities convicted felons who have served their time have for reentering the workplace. However, while the memorandum would undoubtedly help many qualified individuals get federal jobs they are qualified for, critics say the measure does not go far enough.

Ban the box for federal agencies

The memorandum, which was signed in April, proposed a new rule that would ban federal agencies from asking prospective employees whether or not they have been convicted of a criminal offense in the past. Instead, federal employers would only be able to ask about a job applicant's criminal history during the final phase of the hiring process.

The rule, which entered a 60-day comment period and which could still be revised or withdrawn, would not extend to all federal job positions. For example, job postings in intelligence, national security, and law enforcement would still be permitted to ask about an applicant's criminal history early in the hiring process. Additionally, and controversially, the proposed rule does not extend to federal contract workers.

Why ban the box?

The ban the box campaign has been gaining traction in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. As the Christian Science Monitor reports, one 2015 poll found that 34 percent of unemployed men aged between 25 and 54 have a criminal record. African American and Latino men are also disproportionately overrepresented in those figures.

Advocates of banning the box say that simply asking an applicant whether or not he or she has a prior criminal conviction is more likely to lead to a reduction in call backs, even if the individual's conviction poses little relevance to the job duties he or she would be performing. One study found that job applicants were 50 percent less likely to get a call back if they had a criminal conviction.

Federal employees' rights

Federal employees, as the above article shows, are often subject to rights and benefits that can be unique and complex. For federal employees who have an employment law concern, it is best to consult with an attorney who specializes in handling cases on behalf of federal government workers. Such an attorney can provide guidance and representation to help employees uphold their rights and, in some cases, pursue claims that they may be entitled to.