Finding employment is tough enough these days. Finding employment when you have a criminal history can be nearly impossible.
One reason: The question on job applications that asks if the applicant has a criminal record. That question automatically turns many applicants into rejects, no matter what their qualifications are and no matter how long ago or minor the offense was.
Because of that, the Buffalo Common Council is doing the right thing in considering a proposal to “ban the box” asking about criminal history on job applications.
Almost 50 cities and counties and eight states have eliminated the box. At the very least, the measure will provide fair consideration to qualified applicants who might not otherwise have gotten it.
Council Majority Leader Demone Smith first suggested about a year ago banning the box on job applications. The measure would require, with some exemptions, all employers in the city, including the city and its vendors, to remove any questions relating to criminal history from job applications.
Exempted from the rule would be law enforcement agencies, schools, employers with fewer than 15 workers and organizations that work with children, young adults, senior citizens or people with disabilities. Employers who violate the ordinance would face fines of up to $1,000.
The law does not prevent an employer from asking questions about criminal history during job interviews. Removing the conviction question from the application simply gives a prospective employee with a criminal past the chance to reach the interview stage and have a discussion of that past. Employers would still be allowed to ask about criminal history during an interview, and they should ask that question.
This measure is about giving people a chance to find a job that might otherwise be denied them. Offenders who have paid their debt to society deserve the right to get on with their lives. Without a job, that is nearly impossible and often leads to a return to crime. Two-thirds of local parolees do not have a job, and of the ones who do, only 5 percent make more than $7.25 an hour.
Employers can help break that cycle, and ensure that they are hiring the best employees.
It’s time to ban the box.