‘Ban the box’ job application movement gains support

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 12:00 am

Kevin Hurley paused recently while painting an apartment in Kansas City, Kan., to say how much his life has changed since he got a job.

Hurley, 55, was in prison for 30 years and five months. When he was released on Jan. 18, he had little hope of landing work because of his criminal history.

He found that many job applications ask upfront about arrests or convictions, and employers’ policies immediately reject them.

That’s why Hurley, imprisoned for murder and robbery, was happy to learn that Target Corp. announced last week it will remove criminal history questions from its applications nationwide. The company joins a small but growing number of organizations nationwide in a “ban the box” movement to eliminate that kind of blank on application forms.

“It’s really hard if no one wants to give you a chance,” Hurley said. “I never forget about those past years, but now I want to keep those years behind me.”

Thanks to the TurnAround program for ex-offenders, offered by Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Hurley got workforce training and mentors. A property management company, accepted his job application and hired him.

Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, said recently that re-entry assistance programs can’t make much difference if employers refuse to even consider ex-offenders as job candidates.

That’s why the Target announcement made national headlines. By not asking a criminal history question until an applicant reaches the interview stage or gets a conditional job offer, the company is doing what re-entry counselors recommend.

Target’s announcement had a legislative push. Starting next year, the State of Minnesota, home to Target’s headquarters, is extending a public employer prohibition against asking about criminal histories on job applications to private employers. The criminal history question should be asked only after an interview or conditional job offer.

And last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated rules that bar all employers from automatically denying employment solely based on arrests or convictions. The agency’s guidance tells employers to evaluate the severity of the offense and the time that has passed since.

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