A Bipartisan, Bicameral bill was introduced last week that would allow for previously incarcerated Americans to overcome the employment barrier of having to check the criminal history box when applying for federal jobs. Representatives Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the Fair Chance Act to the House, while Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2017, otherwise known as the Fair Chance Act, would prohibit employers from requesting an individual’s criminal history prior to a conditional offer for federal employment. This includes both oral and written inquiries into a person’s criminal history made before the conditional offer stage. Eighteen states and over 100 cities and counties have similar policies already in play, frequently referred to as “ban-the-box” because it eliminates the box asking about criminal histories on job applications.
While the Act would apply to federal employment, there are a few positions within the government that are excluded from the ban. The prohibition would not apply to individuals seeking positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history information before the conditional offer stage is required by law.
In addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government, this ban would also apply to private-sector contractors for positions within the scope of federal contracts. Similar measures of the Act were introduced in November during last Congress, but it was never made into law.
The Fair Chance Act would not only build on to steps already made by other states, cities, and counties, but would also provide individuals who have criminal records an equal opportunity at obtaining employment with the federal government. A few years back, the EEOC updated its guidance by saying that criminal convictions in most cases should not automatically preclude an employment candidate from getting the job. Rather, the employer should consider a number of factors, including the type of job, how long ago the conviction occurred and the nature of the conviction to determine how much relevancy the conviction had on the job. The Fair Chance Act clearly advances the EEOC’s position and adds to the trend in the U.S. to examine criminal convictions on a case by case basis.