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December 15, 2015

'Ban the Box' bill strengthened in City Hall

Since 2012, the city has had a "Ban the Box" policy in place to make sure job applicants don't need to disclose prior convictions until after a first interview with a prospective employer. 

On Tuesday that legislation was bolstered by additional provisions that permit prospective employers to conduct criminal background checks on applicants only after a job offer has been made. 

"For all participants, this is the greatest bit of transparency there can be," said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the agency that enforces the legislation. 

Landau said the new measure, intended to prevent discrimination against individuals who have criminal convictions, prohibits both city agencies and private employers from inquiring about criminal background and arrests on an employment application. 

The employer may then perform a background check following a conditional offer of employment.  

If the background check reveals a criminal conviction within the last seven years, the employer must consider the nature of the crime, the time that has passed since the offense and the duties of the job when determining whether to offer employment, she said. 

Before "Ban the Box" – which refers to the check box on a job application that asks if an applicant has been convicted of a crime in the past – Landau said that employers could easily throw away job applications that were marked with prior convictions. 

This, she said, led to discrimination.

"In some cases, if you checked that box, they never even looked at you. They just threw you in the trash can," she said. "You are automatically discriminating by doing that." 

Since the initial "Ban the Box" law took effect, Landau said, employers who didn't remove that prior conviction box from job applications could get hit with $2,000 fines. Now, she said, in addition to the fine, employers who violate the ban could get an injection and have to pay compensation damages to prospective employees who complain to the city. 

After he signed the bill in City Hall, Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement that by making employers wait until a job offer has been extended before any criminal background check is done, returning citizens will have a better chance of securing employment. 

“I believe that the city should lead by example in our policy on hiring returning citizens. Government can’t ask businesses to do something that it isn’t willing to do,” Nutter said. “Hiring returning citizens is good for the economy and good for the people who gain jobs by government reducing barriers to employment. We can support returning citizens and add qualified workers to government positions.”  

In that same statement, city councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., (D-4th Dist.), sponsor of the update said "it has been proven time and time again that if returning citizens have steady employment they are less likely to commit crimes again and this legislation will help them do that."