Obama Addresses Hiring Bias Against Ex-Cons Seeking Federal Jobs

Lucie Rivière

On November 1, 2015, President Obama, by executive order, took a significant step against the discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal jobs.

Securing work after being incarcerated is an important step in a former inmate’s reintegration into his or her community, and every year, hundred of thousands of Americans are released from state and federal prisons. Frequently, finding work is one of the most difficult obstacles for former inmates to overcome. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in 2010, only 40% employers said they would consider hiring candidates who had a committed a crime—even if the candidate had more experience and a stronger resume than other applicants.  Unsurprisingly, a 2010 study from the National Institute of Justice (“NIJ”) found that between 60% and 75% of ex-convicts were still unemployed a year after their release.

In 2004, to protect job applicants from the mandatory disclosure of past convictions in job applications, a national civil rights movement of formerly incarcerated people and their families, “All of Us or None,” launched a “ban the box” campaign (referring to employers’ practice of making job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record). The “ban the box” campaign challenged employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions. Since 2004, numerous advocates, including formerly incarcerated people, legal aid organizations, civil rights partners, and elected officials, became involved in the “ban the box” campaigns. Today, over 45 cities and counties, including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco prohibit questions regarding conviction history from employment applications.

On November 1, 2015, President Obama instructed his Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”), the “HR department” of the federal government, to delay inquiries about criminal history in federal job applications until after a candidate had an in-person interview. The OPM recommended that federal agencies to “wait until the end of the hiring process to consider the applicant’s criminal record.” President Obama’s executive order codifies the recommendation. However, this order does not cover federal contractors, which are statistically more likely to receive applications from ex-convicts. Additionally, this order only delays the disclosure of convictions until a “later point in the hiring process”, rather than after the government makes a conditional offer of employment to the applicant, which the National Employment Law Project (“NELP”), one of the main advocacy groups supporting ban-the-box policies, strongly recommends.

Nevertheless, this order is a step in the right direction. Indeed, the NIJ’s 2010 study showed that employment prospects for applicants with criminal records improved when applicants had an opportunity to interact with the hiring manager. Although individual characteristics of employers were significant, the researchers concluded that personal interaction between the applicant and prospective employer was in itself a key factor in a successful hiring.

If you think you have been discriminated against because of your criminal backgrounds, please call The Harman Firm, LLP.