In the US, one in three adults, or around 70 million people, have some form of criminal records, while 20 million Americans have been convicted of a felony. These records often serve to shut otherwise qualified candidates out of all but the least-skilled and lowest-paying jobs. Black and Latino men, who make up a disproportionate share of the prison and ex-offender population, suffer the most from this barrier to employment. The inability to get a good job leaves many former prisoners with few options for escaping a life of crime, and studies have shown that gainful employment for ex-felons is one of the most effective deterrents to recidivism, which means employers play a key role in helping reintegrate former prisoners into society.
With unemployment below 4 percent, more job openings than candidates, and many US employers struggling to find the workers they need, the stigma attached to criminal backgrounds in employment now stands to harm not only individuals and communities, but also businesses. “It is morally and economically bad for our country if we do not start removing barriers that prevent returning citizens from a shot at a better life after they have paid their debt to society,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and former secretary of education Arne Duncan write in an op-ed at the Chicago Tribune. “Business should be at the forefront of solving this challenge. Frankly, it’s in our best interest to do so.”
Dimon and Duncan point to several initiatives going on in the Chicago area and around the country to create employment opportunities for ex-convicts and people at risk of being swept up in the criminal justice system:
First, Boeing and a number of other organizations are partnering on Heartland Alliance’s READI Chicago initiative. This two-year program is trying to reduce gun violence by providing returning citizens and others susceptible to gun violence with employment, job training and support services. Programs like this can help reduce recidivism rates, decrease neighborhood crime and promote economic opportunity.
Even as the Trump administration rolled back numerous Obama-era regulations at the federal level and took more employer-friendly stances on a number of hot-button labor issues, 2017 also witnessed the continued proliferation of new laws and regulations in states and localities, particularly those whose legislatures are dominated by Democrats. Many of these policy changes came into force on January 1, while others will become effective later in 2018, meaning countless US organizations will have to adjust to a new and more complex regulatory landscape this year.
Minimum Wages Rise for Millions of Workers
To begin with, minimum wages rose on Monday in 18 states, including several that passed referenda to that effect in 2016. Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington saw increases ranging from 35¢ to $1.00 per hour due to legislative or ballot measures, while the pay floors in Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota, which are pegged to inflation, rose automatically. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute calculates that 4.5 million employees in total will see their pay increase thanks to these measures—though opponents of minimum wage hikes would argue that some of these employees will be laid off as their employers can no longer afford to pay them at the new rate.
California Keeps on Being California
With its huge labor market, diverse economy, and liberal government, California is a longstanding laboratory of progressive legislation, which serves as a bellwether for emerging regulatory trends and has an impact beyond the state’s borders as multi-state employers often opt to comply with California’s stricter rules nationwide for simplicity’s sake. A number of new laws came into effect in the Golden State this week that employers there need to be aware of. Mark S. Spring, a partner at Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP, breaks down all of these changes at TLNT. Here are the changes in brief:
The company worked with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on the new policy, and that organization’s president, Kristen Clarke, contributed a statement to go with Glassdoor’s announcement:
Without access to employment, people with criminal records are placed on a path to failure and unable to take the steps necessary to successfully reintegrate into their communities. This is especially true for African-Americans and other minorities who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. As we continue our work to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens, we applaud Glassdoor for leading in this important effort to help eliminate restrictive and discriminatory criminal background screening practices faced by minority communities across our country.
A bill recently passed by both houses of the California state legislature and now awaiting the signature of Governor Jerry Brown would, with certain limited exceptions, prohibit California employers from voluntarily allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents onsite to conduct immigration inspections or to access employee records without a warrant or court order. Supporters of the bill describe it as a means of protecting California’s immigrant workers from abuse by federal authorities and of resisting President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which have resulted in a spike in ICE raids and allegations of rights violations. SHRM’s Lisa Nagele-Piazza has the details on the bill:
Among other things, A.B. 450 would require employers to:
- Obtain warrants and subpoenas from federal immigration agents before granting them access to nonpublic areas of the worksite or permitting them to inspect certain employee records.
- Notify workers and their labor unions about an ICE enforcement activity within 72 hours of receiving notice of the inspection.
- Provide each current affected employee and the employee’s authorized representative with the results of an inspection within 72 hours of receiving such information from ICE.
- Pay penalties of between $2,000 and $10,000 for violations.
Currently, employers may voluntarily comply with federal agents’ requests to access the worksite during an immigration-related investigation.
If Brown signs the bill, organizations in the state will have to train their employees not to voluntarily consent to ICE actions, among other compliance challenges.
Indiana State House (Aeypix/Shutterstock)
At the same time that the Trump administration is looking to roll back multiple elements of federal employment regulation in the US, we have also seen a recent trend of states and cities taking the lead on introducing new regulations such as minimum wage laws, overtime rules, paid sick leave mandates, and bans on salary history inquiries. Employers, however, fear that a patchwork of regulations will make compliance a nightmare, and some states see the proliferation of local labor ordinances as a form of overreach by municipal governments.
These states, mostly governed by Republicans, have begun advancing legislation to curb the implementation of these local ordinances; Indiana, for example, recently passed a law barring local governments from enacting ban-the-box laws, which prohibit employers from inquiring about candidates’ criminal records early on in the application process, Roy Maurer reports at SHRM:
The legislation is meant to make it easier for employers that operate statewide from having to navigate different hiring processes and obligations throughout the state, said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, the author of the bill. It takes effect July 1. Over 150 state, county and city governments have enacted ban-the-box laws across the country, and new laws are being passed every year. Most are limited to public-sector hiring.
Indianapolis and Marion County passed its ban-the-box law in February 2014. The ordinance prohibits city or county agencies and vendors from inquiring into an applicant’s conviction history until after the first interview. If no interview is conducted, the employer is prohibited from making inquiries or gathering any information regarding the applicant’s criminal convictions. Other areas of the country are attempting to enact bills like S.B. 312.
‘Ban the box’ laws prohibit employers from asking about candidates’ criminal records in the early stages of the hiring process, but critics of these policies say they have unintended consequences, with two studies last year showing that they can backfire on minority job applicants—the very people they are meant to help—by letting hiring managers make discriminatory assumptions about which candidates are most likely to have criminal backgrounds. Defenders of ban the box counter that the policies have the intended effect of making candidates with criminal records more likely to get a second look from employers, and that the answer to hiring managers discriminating against candidates is to better enforce existing anti-discrimination laws.
Initiatives that help ex-convicts rejoin the workforce are broadly socially responsible, as those who manage to hold down jobs are far less likely to re-offend and return to prison. One question that has received too little attention in this debate, however, is if ban the box is indeed counterproductive, what kind of policy would help give the millions of Americans with criminal records a fighting chance in the job market? SHRM’s Roy Maurer puts that question to some critics of banning the box. Jennifer Doleac, the author of one of last years’ studies finding a negative effect on minorities, tells Maurer that the problem with relying on anti-discrimination laws to prevent these negative effects is that it is hard to prove that these hiring managers’ decisions constitute discrimination:
“Ban the box” initiatives aim to improve the hiring prospects of formerly incarcerated people in the US, who are disproportionately black and Latino, by prohibiting organizations from inquiring about candidates’ criminal records at the start of the recruiting process. Critics of such bans say they are an ineffective tool for combating hiring bias against racial minorities, as studies have found that they can actually backfire and lead to worse hiring outcomes for minorities by encouraging employers to guess which applicants have criminal records instead, sometimes based on their race or ethnicity.
Defenders of banning the box, however, counter that one of these same studies found an increased callback rate for applicants with criminal records, suggesting that they are achieving their main objective. The unwelcome side effects identified in the studies, the pro-ban camp counters, are products not of banning the box but rather of hiring managers’ biases and the absence of systems to correct for them. To that point, Crain’s Detroit passes along the bullet points of a new report from the Urban Institute, a liberal think-tank, which argues for complementing ban the box with more rigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. Its recommendations include:
- Increasing and improving enforcement of equal employment laws, despite the difficulty in proving employment discrimination after the fact, [Urban Institute senior research associate and the report’s lead author Christina] Stacy said. The authors cited research that suggested using more government “testers” to uncover instances of employment discrimination and updating government contract guidelines to use current economic and demographic data.
- Removing racially identifying information from job applications, such as a candidate’s name and address. That could help applicants receive callbacks or interviews before the employer knows his or her race, which could help avoid implicit bias, Stacy said. …