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Ban the Box Movement Spreads to More States, Municipalities

An executive order issued by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in April 2015 made it easier for people with criminal records to be considered for state jobs. The order was another victory for the “ban the box” movement, which seeks to remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications.

Under Executive Order 41, the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management must delete questions related to convictions and criminal records from state employment applications. It must also inform state executive branch hiring staff that employment decisions cannot be based on an applicant’s criminal history unless it is clearly job-related or current law prohibits the person from being employed in the position due to the nature of the offense.

The executive order further provides that a criminal history check may not be conducted until after a job applicant has been found eligible for the position and signs a release. Finally, sensitive positions that require initial disclosure of criminal records must be identified.

 “It’s all about forgiveness and giving people second chances,” said McAuliffe. “In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed.”

McAuliffe’s order followed the state legislature’s failure to enact a ban the box bill; while the state Senate passed the legislation, it died in the House of Delegates.

An estimated 70 million adults (nearly one in three) in the United States have arrest or conviction records. Ex-offenders regularly must answer job application questions regarding their criminal histories, making it difficult to overcome their past and find work.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 24 states and 150 municipalities have adopted ban the box regulations for public employers. Nine states, the District of Columbia and at least 14 cities or counties have extended such regulations to government contractors or other private employers. [See: PLN, Oct. 2014, p.46].

During 2016, seven states – Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Connecticut and Wisconsin – adopted ban the box measures. Legislation to enact similar policies failed to pass in another seven states.

Additionally, 28 cities or counties adopted ban the box policies last year. For example, San Antonio, Texas passed a “fair chance” ordinance that applies to employment with city agencies in December 2016. That same month the Los Angeles City Council approved a Fair Chance Initiative, which applies to both city and private sector employers with 10 employees or more. The Initiative, which went into effect on January 22, 2017, will enforce compliance first through warnings and then with fines of up to $2,000 for repeat violations.

In November 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced it was finalizing a rule that would delay inquiries related to federal job candidates’ criminal records until after they have had a chance to be interviewed and present their qualifications. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.42].

 “As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government should lead the way and serve as a model for all employers – both public and private,” the White House said in a press release issued at the time. “Banning the box for federal hiring is an important step.”

The Obama administration took this a step further, attempting to involve private-sector employers by asking companies and organizations to sign a voluntary “fair chance pledge.” As of November 2016, as reported by the Washington Times, more than 300 private employers had committed to the pledge to adopt ban the box policies.

While employers are still allowed to ask about job applicants’ criminal backgrounds during the interview process, the goal is to ensure prospective employees are able to make it past the initial application stage without being summarily rejected due to their criminal records.  

Sources: Huffington Post, Washington Post,,,


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