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San Francisco tells employers: Ban the criminal history box

When a convicted criminal is released back into society and applies for a job, the dreaded question about criminal history often makes it difficult to get beyond the initial application form. Consciously or unconsciously, when an employer knows that a potential employee has a criminal record, the knowledge may introduce bias into the selection process early on.

Now, in a victory for employee rights, San Francisco appears to be a few steps away from introducing a new ordinance to make it illegal to ask about criminal records until after the first in-person job interview. The measure is aimed at giving people with criminal records a more equitable chance of being offered an appropriate position.

California changed the law in this way for its public sector positions during 2013, and some national retail chains have adopted similar policies. Now the new ordinance, if signed by San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin M. Lee, will apply to all private companies with at least 20 employees, as well as to city contractors. Exceptions will be made for some sensitive employment sectors and job types, such as law enforcement and positions that entail lots of contact with children.

Relative to other U.S. cities, San Francisco has a very high rate of re-offending. City leaders hope that an improvement in the rights of potential employees will result in fewer former prisoners being tempted to return to crime. The same change in policy will be made for housing applications, which the city hopes will further reduce discrimination and assist ex-offenders to reintegrate.

Remember that your relationship with a company begins at the application stage, so even before you are employed by a company, you have employee rights. If you feel your chances of being offered a suitable job are being jeopardized by your ex-convict status, consider consulting with an attorney who is very familiar with employment law so that together you can evaluate all opportunities for recourse.

Source: The Huffington Post, “San Francisco Law Would Shield Applicants' Criminal History,” Lydia O'Connor, Feb. 10, 2014

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