Ban the box… chase the fox

We’ve all heard the old saying “sly as a fox.”

Someone who is as “sly as a fox” is cunning and experienced and can get what they want, often in an underhand way. This would apply to people who are generally dishonest and prone to use deception and subterfuge to get what they want in life.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who live this way. Many of these people have been convicted of felony crimes and some of these felons are repeat offenders, having never really paid their debt to society because they continue to engage in the same behavior.

Most employers in America would prefer not to hire this type of person because they risk serious exposure if they hire someone with a repeat criminal history and the person, while employed, commits yet another crime that harms an employee, client, customer or vendor.

  • They risk legal exposure from a negligent hiring lawsuit.
  • They risk reputation exposure that can harm their business.
  • They risk financial exposure from replacement costs.
  • They risk productivity problems from decreased morale.

With all of the regular costs that are required to operate a business, one can see how companies would like to avoid making such a bad hire.

The standard employment application includes a “check box” that requires an applicant to disclose if they have been convicted of a felony. Some believe that this box invites automatic disqualification from employment and this potential for exclusion – or even the possibility of heightened suspicion about the person – places the person at an unfair disadvantage when competing for a job. So, a movement has emerged to “ban the box” and it’s getting some traction.

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The truth is, there are so many laws, regulations and rules that companies must follow when hiring people today, and a very real threat of steep fines and negative media exposure, that a company would be foolish to have a blanket policy denying employment to every person with a felony record.

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reaffirmed its position that it is illegal to exclude people from employment unless the crime was directly related to the job. The EEOC said that employers must consider the nature of the job, the gravity of the offense (whether it is violent or nonviolent) and how long ago the conviction occurred.

Just consider these recent cases to better understand how serious the government is about enforcing this law.

The EEOC ruling has been well publicized via mainstream media, trade associations, social networks and the Internet, and most companies are now following suit. As such, we feel the “box” should remain on applications so companies can evaluate a person’s true character. If a person checks the box and explains their situation up front, this demonstration of honesty reflects the type of person that would likely be a safe hire – especially if their crime had nothing to do with the position they are applying for.

Efforts to ban the box will not achieve some noble objective that gives this person a second chance. It simply means that companies will continue playing “chase the fox.”

If you recall, we said the “fox” was the dishonest person who can usually get what they want, often in an underhanded way. If the convicted felon, who continues to live life by deception and subterfuge, is not forced to confront the “felony” question on the application, the company will simply chase down this person’s past using a pre-employment background check. Companies will also be screening the rehabilitated felon who deserves a second chance, but banning the box simply eliminates an opportunity for this person to demonstrate a positive character trait with full disclosure.

You may be thinking that banning the box will not have this effect because the honest person can still disclose their felony up front. This is technically true, but human nature will prevent most people, however honest they may be, from disclosing a felony when filling out an employment application – unless they are prompted to confront the matter with the box.

If we ban the box, we will be eliminating a valuable pre-screening tool that can actually benefit someone who made a bad decision but is now reformed and living an honest life.

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