A law passed last fall means businesses in New York City aren’t allowed to ask people whether they have been convicted of a crime when they apply for a job. It’s meant to give those with a criminal record a fairer chance of finding employment. But six months after the law went into effect, Oliver Arnoldi finds many businesses are not complying.
ARNOLDI 1: Michael Brundidge is showing me what it’s like to apply for a job online…
BRUNDIDGE 1: I’m looking at the GNC website now, I’m about to apply for a sales associate position at Grand Central Terminal.
ARNOLDI 2: Brundidge doesn’t need a job for himself – he works for the Fortune Society – a re-entry group that helps formerly incarcerated people. Specifically, he helps them find jobs. But, Lately, he’s been getting calls from clients, saying that something’s not right.
BRUNDIDGE 2: It clearly asks me – ‘Have you been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a crime, including felony and/ or misdemeanor?’
ARNOLDI 3: He goes through other entry level job applications at a 7-Eleven and Banana Republic. Both ask applicants to check a box if they’ve been convicted of a crime.
BRUNDIDGE 3: What they’re doing is what Ban the Box is trying not to do, which is giving someone a fair chance. They’re taking that chance away.
ARNOLDI 4: These companies are breaking the Fair Chance Act, also known as Ban the Box, which stops employers from asking applicants if they have a criminal record until after they have given them a conditional job offer. There are 70 million people in the United States who have a criminal record, so New York City and many other states are adopting Ban the Box laws in an effort to help get these people back to work.
BROWN 1: When I see the box on the form, I get very upset…
ARNOLDI 5: Rodney Brown knows first hand how hard it is to find a job after prison. He was released last August after several stints inside for fraud and drug charges.
Brown 2: I apply for jobs online, they call me: ‘OK, now, do you have any felony convictions?’ I say, ‘Hold on, you’re not supposed to ask me that.’ ‘You got a felony?’ I said, ‘You’re not supposed to ask me that!’ ‘Well sorry, thank you for the interview.’ And that’s it.
ARNOLDI 6: But if it’s law, why is this happening? According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one in six violent crimes in the United States happens at work. Molly Brogan Day works for the National Association of Small Businesses, and she says businesses are concerned about liability.
MOLLY BROGAN-DAY 2: If you’re not allowed to ask this information up front, it really puts the business owner in a delicate position with regard to the safety of their clients and their employees.
ARNOLDI 7: And because the Fair Chance Act only lets employers run background checks at the end of the process, Brogan-Day says it’s a drain on resources.
MOLLY BROGAN-DAY 3: It could be upwards of a month to six to even eight weeks for the whole process of a first interview, a second interview, and then offering the job and then if you find that there is a deal-breaker in terms of a background check you waste a lot of time and money in doing that.
ARNOLDI 8: At the Legal Action Center, Senior Attorney Kate Wagner-Goldstein thinks
WAGNER-GOLDSTEIN 1: …that with any new law some employers are slow to start implementing it, so there may be some back log because of that, but I don’t think there’s much excuse.
ARNOLDI 9: Ultimately…
WAGNER-GOLDSTEIN 1: There should be aggressive enforcement of the law so that employers realize there are consequences.
ARNOLDI 10: The city’s Commission on Human Rights is the group responsible for the enforcement of the Act. And right now, it seems focused more on educating employers about the law than enforcement. They hold workshops every week for employers to learn about the their legal obligations. I went to one in Staten Island earlier this week, and I was the only one there. So it’s hard to tell whether businesses don’t know about the law or simply don’t care. Either way, it puts job-seekers like Brown and groups like the Fortune Society in a watchdog position.
ROWE 3: You can pass as many laws as you want to, however, if the culture doesn’t change, it’s all for naught.
ARNOLDI 11: Kingsley Rowe recently started teaching at NYU, and was one of NYU’s first hires under the Fair Chance Act. Rowe served nearly 30 years for manslaughter after accidentally killing a friend with a hand gun when he was 18. But he says when he applied to NYU, the process…
ROWE 2: …allowed me to keep my dignity. It allowed me to keep my self-respect.
ARNOLDI 12: Whether more employers will give that opportunity remains to be seen. The City’s commission on Human Rights says it will keep holding workshops to train employers on compliance. Hopefully, more people will show up.
Oliver Arnoldi, Columbia Radio News.