New York City Is One Step Closer To Giving Ex-offenders a “Fair Chance” at Employment

Ciera Ambrose and Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Today’s job market is tough on everyone, but it’s especially hard for a person with a criminal conviction to get hired. When applying for a job, applicants are often asked about their work history, education, and criminal record. However, when answering the question, “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” applicants who respond truthfully about their past convictions are less likely to get hired, let alone get a call back.

This hiring trend has sparked a movement called “Ban the Box,” initiated to reduce the employment barriers facing ex-offenders, and to challenge the stereotypes of those with conviction histories by supporting hiring practices based on merit, such as job skills and qualifications, not past convictions.

Recently, the New York City Council amended the Administrative Code of the City of New York, prohibiting employment discrimination based on one’s arrest record or criminal conviction. The bill is entitled the “The Fair Chance Act,” and applies to all businesses in New York City with at least four employees. Under the Fair Chance Act, a job offer can be rescinded after a criminal background check, but not before the employer gives an explanation and engages in an interactive discussion, considering the employer’s requirements and the applicant’s evidence of good conduct. Should Mayor Bill de Blasio sign the bill into law, New York City would become a member of the sixty plus cities and counties in the U.S. that have enacted fair chance policies for the employment of people with past convictions.

In addition, this Act will prohibit an employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history that could potentially violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For example, in Roberto J. Arroyo et al. v. Accenture LLP et al., Accentual LLP – one of the largest management-consulting firms in the world, was accused of rejecting or firing qualified individuals who had criminal records even when their criminal history had no direct influence on the individual’s ability to perform the job, at issue, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the complaint, filed in the Southern District Court of New York, when Ms. Arroyo challenged his termination based on his criminal records, a human resources representative at Accenture told him that it was company policy to fire employees and rescind offers to job applicants if and when their background checks revealed criminal convictions.

Should Mayor de Blasio sign the bill, as he is expected to do, occurrences such as this should be less frequent in New York City because employees will have the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and explain their past convictions, rather than simply checking a box that all too often eliminated their chance of being hired at the outset.

If you believe you have been subjected to discrimination by a prospective employer based on your criminal history, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.