Wisconsin Ban the Box campaign aims to protect applicants’ rights

Over the last few decades, employment law has evolved to restrict discrimination on many factors: sex, age, religion, color, natural origin and, more recently, LGBT issues. But another area of discrimination has been getting increased attention across the country. The issue is whether and how much a prospective employer can investigate an applicant’s criminal history.

In Wisconsin, about 8000 people each year are released from state prisons. That number doesn’t include those released from county jails. Before the EEOC began to ban such practices, applicants could be rejected on objective criteria even as flippant as whether an employer thought a woman’s place was in the home. But while those criteria can no longer be used legally to make employment decisions, one’s criminal history is still fodder for bias.

The Ban the Box campaign has already successfully passed some form of legislation in several states and working its way through Wisconsin, primarily on a local level. Madison has banned the criminal history question for administrative jobs and Milwaukee has banned it for jobs with the city and the county. Advocates of the program point to the never-ending cycle for those with a criminal history: they leave prison and can’t get a job because of their record and then end up engaging in more criminal activity out of desperation or lack of opportunities otherwise.

The Ban the Box campaign has support on many levels. In Milwaukee, advocates believe that it will improve racial disparities in unemployment figures. According to statistics, Caucasians and African-Americans commit roughly the same number of crimes, but blacks are incarcerated more often. When criminal history is an upfront issue on a job application, more blacks are likely to be unemployed. 

Opponents shouldn’t fear that criminals will run rampant through the workforce. Ban the box only applies to employment rightsin the application process; once a position is offered, the employer may inquire and offer the candidate a chance to explain. If the conviction relates to the job, for example, a child molestation conviction for an applicant for a school bus driver, the employer may renege the offer without violating employment laws. Until Ban the Box or similar legislation is passed in Wisconsin, those denied employment who suspect that the decision was made on a discriminatory basis should contact an attorney who handles employment issues for advice.

Source: Milwaukee Courier, “Ban the Box Gains Bipartisan Support in Wisconsin,” Mrinal Gokhale, Oct. 17, 2015

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