Should employers be allowed to ask job applicants if they are convicted of a crime?

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) -- Two Democratic Alabama lawmakers want to introduce a bill to "ban the box" —  that little square on a job application that you have to check if you've been convicted of a crime.

 Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma told The Anniston Star in a report this week, he does not want to completely block employers from asking job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a felony. But when the question is asked on a job application form, Sanders says people with past convictions never even get a chance.

According to  the Anniston Star report, both lawmakers joined other protesters at the capital Tuesday for a protest over the issue.

"People were convicted of something 30 years ago still have to check the box," Sanders said. "It really is a life sentence."

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, has also thrown support behind the proposal.

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma (File)

Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma (File)

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, a dozen states have passed similar laws.

There are an estimated 70 million U.S. adults with arrests or convictions that make it difficult, if
not impossible, to find work given the proliferation of employment background checks, according to the report. The likelihood of a callback for an interview for an entry-level  position drops off by 50 percent for those applicants with an arrest or conviction history.

Huntsville based employment attorney Teri Mastando says there are pros and cons for both employers and applicants if the laws do change.

"It will give applicants a better shot at explaining their story, but on the other hand it will put a burden on employers to update their applications," Mastando says.

Lawmakers intend to introduce a "ban the box" bill in the next legislative session, according to the report in the Anniston Star.

(Some information in this story used with permission from The Anniston Star)


  • Michael

    Look past the “Democrat” people. This is a good law. While certainly no one wants to hire unknowingly a convicted robber or killer, most of these applicants that mark yes have to do it over some petty drug crime. We want the drug users to clean their act and get a job, but what good is telling them that if they can’t get the job due to a drug crime in the past?

  • Mark Cumber

    Violent crimes, larceny, and fraud? Yes, employers should be able to ask.
    Drugs or anything that hasn’t happened in the last 10 years? No, I don’t think it’s an issue anymore after that long, and it does make it harder to go legit. If you can’t get a job you can survive on, it’s a lot easier to commit crimes when you need the money, isn’t it?

  • La Verne Coudiac Buschwell B. Waitingonmecheck

    This probably affects all of these two politicians’ constituency !!!!

  • TC

    This is a fluff piece. If they do away with the “box” then it will show up in the background check, either way slim chance of getting hired. All the box does is speed up the process. I am not sure what all is shown in a background check but I do know companies I’ve worked for have not hired people because of bad checks (AKA stealing). I’m all for people cleaning up their act just not sure if “ban the box” will help get that done. Very few people that I know care about Dem or Rep any more, we are all sick of the way things are and have been. It matters not who is leading the way as long as good decisions are being made, I will support them.

  • Branko Pezdi

    What the hell business is it of the government to dictate to employers the questions they can ask of prospective employees if the questions don’t violate basic Constitutional rights? What Constitutional right is violated asking about something that is on the PUBLIC RECORD??? This is yet another case of politicians attempting to increase the level of fascist control in the once free USA.

    • Michael

      I believe you can make an argument that a person’s Eighth Amendment rights are violated. If the government is going to convict them of a petty crime back when that person was a dumb teen or young adult, that person pays his debt to society, but is still unable to find work many years later due to the government’s conviction that can be labeled excessive punishment by the government IMO. The 8th is usually only brought up discussing capital punishment but it involves all convictions no matter how small the offense is.

      If you think about it most of the convicted armed robbers, murderers, and rapists are going to be in jail anyways not looking for work. We’re both on the same side of telling the government to get lost, just coming at it from different angles.

  • Trac Sala

    Sorry, as a business owner, I want to know if the person I am hiring has ever been convicted of a crime. Let the company decide if the crime and date are relevant, not our government!

    • Jeremy Smith

      Agreed! If an employer doesn’t know that an employee was convicted of a crime, and the employee commits another crime, how will THAT fare for the Employer and any relevant insurance coverage ?? (Just a small part of a major problem)

  • Dane Parker

    At a glance, this proposed legislation looks silly. Not only is it entirely appropriate for business owners and, let’s not forget, other employees to know in whom they’re placing their trust, but let’s not lose sight of the potential criminal deterrence effect of understand that if one commits a criminal act and is caught that it could have a serious impact on his or her employment opportunities for some time to come. On the other hand, I think legislation like this could be hammered into something that would be reasonable. As mentioned in other comments here, expunging the requirement to mark the box for a misdemeanor that is several years past if the applicant has nothing else more recent on his or her record or otherwise more serious strikes me as nothing inappropriate.

  • kip gambino

    I definitely agree that employers need to know about someones prior crime(s) conviction. Think about the word used here:CRIME. Because,unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t committing crimes in their teen years.

  • Jeremy Smith

    Do a crime??? Punished for life. That’s the way it should be.
    It’s called DETERRENCE people!!!
    Employers have THE RIGHT to know all about any person they’re potentially hiring.
    If you don’t like it..
    DO THE RIGHT THING! (It’s really not that hard)

    • Michael

      And how many felonies have you ever committed that you didn’t know was a felony? If you say zero I’m going to spit all over my screen laughing.

  • TruthLivesHere

    This is pretty much a moot conversation. As many commenters have pointed out, it makes no difference if the question is asked on an application. A background check will reveal all.

  • TC

    I’ve done a little research and now like the idea even less. In other states that have passed “ban the box” legislation they go further than just removing the “box” from an application. They implement a set of guidelines that also affect the background checks. The law will go even further by giving an ex-con the right to sue based discrimination through the EEOC. The guidelines add a lot of hurdles that could make it difficult to turn an ex-con down for a job. If Alabama implements this type of law then I hope they give thought to certain types of crimes, how high of a percentage there is for a repeat offense, and the amount of time since the most recent offense. I have repeat offenders in my family, petty stuff, but they can stay clean easily for 6 months or so, and a couple have even held jobs for up to a year, but they always go right back to their old ways.

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