It was nearly a year ago when I wrote about a human resources move at Koch industries to “Ban the Box.” This progressive concept urges employers in every sector to stop asking job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime, ostensibly to make the transition from prison life to a productive role in society easier. At the time I noted some potential pitfalls inherent in this idea, but concluded that private sector employers were free to do as they wished and simply live with the consequences as per the normal laws of capitalism. But when it comes to the government, such a move should be left on the table absent a clear mandate from the voters.

That didn’t stop Bill de Blasio (who apparently doesn’t much care for my advice) from signing precisely such a rule for New York City employment only a few months later. But hey… it’s the Big Apple. What else did we expect? That still left the question of the federal government, though. At the time, Barack Obama said he was “encouraged” by such actions and wanted to see it become the law of the land across the country.

What ever happened to that scheme? A bill was introduced in Congress, but it hasn’t made much progress since then. But in the era of Obama, when has a little thing like the will of Congress been allowed to stand against the tide of history? Democratic leaders have apparently had enough of these pesky delays and are urging the President to once again ignore the legislative branch and break out the phone and the pen to do something. (Government Executive)

Lawmakers are putting pressure on the Obama administration to follow through on its promise to ease the hiring of former criminals, writing a letter this week to solidify “fair chance hiring” in government.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led the coalition of 50 House members in asking the Office of Personnel Management to issue regulations to “ban the box” — referring to a box on job applications requiring individuals to indicate up front if they have past felonies on their records. President Obama in November directed OPM to “take action where it can” to delay inquiries into federal applicants’ criminal histories until late in the hiring process.

It’s important to remember what the real world effect of these rules will be. (And already are where they are in force.) It doesn’t technically forbid prospective employers from finding out about an applicant’s criminal history. It delays the point in the hiring process where they can find out about it. The long and the short of it is that when an applicant presents their qualifications on paper which may seem good enough to at least get an interview or perhaps even an offer, the employer (government or private sector) may at that point find out that the person was previously convicted of a felony. If the offer is then rescinded or the applicant doesn’t get the job these rules then give them grounds to move forward with a lawsuit against the employer.

In case you think such criteria won’t be creating a logjam in the courts, look no further than a settlement which was reached just this week by the U.S. Census Bureau over failing to offer enough opportunities to felons. (Reuters)

The U.S. Census Bureau has reached a $15 million settlement of a lawsuit claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic job applicants with criminal histories during the 2010 census by making it too hard to document their readiness for work.

Tuesday’s accord was described in papers filed in Manhattan federal court, and requires a judge’s approval.

It requires the Census Bureau to hire two “industrial organizational” psychologists to design criminal history screening criteria for the 2020 census that limit the impact on blacks and Hispanic job applicants.

About $5 million of the payout would go toward helping notify class members of upcoming hirings, or fix mistakes in their criminal history records. Much of the remainder could go toward legal and administrative costs, court papers showed.

The ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should obviously be to punish those who break the laws and keep dangerous offenders off the streets and away from the law abiding. But at the same time, we obviously hope that such punishments lead the offender to get on the straight and narrow and rejoin civil society. Once your time in prison is finished your “debt to society” is paid and the government can’t go after your further for your misdeeds. But the reality is that you still remain responsible for your own actions and the rest of society may take those actions into consideration when it comes to things like hiring decisions. Employers clearly want to bring the best and the brightest into their workforce and it’s difficult to argue that a choice between one person who spent the last ten years working in the same field would have a leg up over another candidate who spent the same period of time in a penitentiary for robbing their last employer.

These aren’t easy questions to wrestle to the ground, but some common sense is called for. What looks on the surface like a well intentioned and humanitarian effort will likely not change hiring practices all that much and will instead simply clog up the courts with a new class of lawsuits.

BanBox