What Is a Ban the Box Law?

The Box Is at the Center of a Recidivism Work Force

Every county, city, and town in the United States has its share of criminal activity. By extension, this also means there is a (not insignificant) percentage of the local workforce made up of past defendants. Ban the Box Law is considered primarily with those arrested and convicted of a felony; felonies are the most severe crimes recognized at both the state and federal levels. The punishment for a felony is typically a large fine and between one year to a lifetime (or multiple) of imprisonment.

Those formerly incarcerated individuals face a problem; as part of their rehabilitation, they must gain lawful employment and prove themselves as fit citizens. Box Law works to protect the business owner’s best interests—at the loss of the convicted. It does this by asking on a job application if the prospect has ever “been convicted of a felony.” If the answer is yes, the hiring process may stop immediately.

As a result of the Box Law, significant numbers of formerly imprisoned people have been shoved into a recurring cycle. The cycle typically begins when the person has served time and faces the option to avoid re-offense (called “recidivism”). When they face that choice, poor choices are typically made, and the cycle continues. Formerly incarcerated people face huge recidivism statistics depending on their state and the environment around them. For example, the current highest recidivism state is Delaware, with an almost 65% chance of recidivism and a nearly 12% total poverty rate.

The goal is to stop recidivism by obtaining and keeping employment. Consequently, there has been mounting pressure to pass Ban the Box Laws throughout the country, states, and cities. It's more important than ever for business owners to know precisely how the Ban the Box Law will affect their businesses. Organizations should keep up with local legislative trends, as policies can change quickly and require reactive measures.

Ban the Box Law Definition

Ban the Box Law looks to remove or hinder the problems created by the Box. Leaving the Box on employment applications drastically reduces hiring a felon through disqualification in the middle of an interview process; Ban the Box removes this mid-way disqualification and allows for an applicant to first take an in-person interview. The change from automatic disqualification to having at least one in-person interview has significantly helped offenders obtain employment. Consequently, states taking on Ban the Box Laws have seen decreased recidivism.

ban the box laws definition

What Does a Ban the Box Law Do?

Ban the Box Law removes the Box from employment applications. The “Box” is shorthand for the question, “have you ever been convicted of a felony, yes, or no?” The “Box” term is meant to signify the Yes or No reply; picking Yes in a Box Law area means the applicant will likely be removed from the prospective pool. Ban the Box Law removes the question of past convictions from the interview process.

The biggest fear for business owners is that they hire the wrong person, someone who steals lies or damages their reputation to their clients. Formerly convicted people are sometimes misrepresented by stereotypes, making their employment process difficult, at best. There’s another fear too, and that is having a convicted felon responsible for sensitive or important information. Again, stereotypes play a large part in this fear, as someone who steals art may not become an art framer.

What Are Fair Chance Laws?

Ban the Box Law is one type of Fair Chance Law; Fair Chance laws are meant to limit the barriers around employment. For example, in New York, it is illegal for employers to ask about criminal records before making a job offer. Organizations affected by Ban the Box Law will likely be nervous about their new hiring procedures. While this is acceptable and expected, the stigma that prevails over formerly convicted people must be changed socially.

For example, the fear that a convicted person would be released and then file an application to work in a similar industry (as in the art example above) is nonsensical. Probation officers keep tabs on offenders, limiting their opportunities appropriately. Thus, while Ban the Box gives former defendants a “fair chance,” there are still protections in place for the employer.

How Does Ban the Box Affect Employee Checks?

Ban the Box does not typically affect employee paychecks. Due to the banning happening during the hiring process, paychecks are rarely affected. Yearly conversations about pay can result in more significant changes among employees and supervisors.

Which Employers Must Comply With Ban the Box Laws?

Ban the Box laws are not selective; this means every business that operates under a local ban law area must follow those banning laws. Failure to comply with these local regulations can result in the organization being sued, harassed, and even convictions. Employers must do their part in staying up to date with all the regulations in their industry and complying with fair trade and employment laws.

What Other Laws Should Employers Be Aware Of?

Business owners and organizations must be aware of more than the Ban the Box Law. They should also be up to date on all Fair Chance Laws. Also, any laws about employees and employers' obligations to them. The best way to do this is by learning from the Department of Labor; the city may or may not contact you when new ones go into effect. It's on the owner to stay apprised of all changes regardless. Other essential laws to stay aware of include:

States with Ban the Box

More than 150 cities and 37 states have adopted fair chance policies, which equates to about 75% of the population. States with Ban the Box Laws, in particular, include Vermont, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, California, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii.

Organizations Must Comply With Ban the Box Laws

Business owners face mounting odds (that might get better with Walmart closing stores in 2023); there are more convictions every year, less money spent, and more pressure from social and government sources. Ban the Box Laws aren’t something to ignore, however, as they make employment more accessible for former ex-offenders. Moreover, while there are various opinions on the ban’s effectiveness, the dissenting opinion doesn’t equate to legal freedom. The best thing any organization can do is keep apprised of, and comply with, labor and trade legislation.