Ban the Box: 20+ Years of Fair Chance Legislation

It all began more than 20 years ago, when Hawaii became the first state to officially pass Ban the Box legislation—law designed to provide those with criminal history a better chance of earning employment without having their misdeeds prevent access to job opportunities.

From its humble beginning as a grassroots, civil rights movement borne of All of Us or None, evolving legislation to provide applicants with fair chance quickly gained momentum nationwide. As law is generally applied today, Ban the Box prohibits certain employers from making criminal history inquiries until a later point during the application and employment process. Ban the Box laws typically:

  • Restricts employer inquiries prior to an applicant’s job interview or even a conditional offer of employment
  • Sets guidelines for how far in the past criminal history may be requested
  • Prevents job position ads from excluding applicants with criminal history

Legislation Today

20+ years later, this growing legal trend to lower barriers faced by job applicants with criminal records has progressed past the removal of an application’s “box,” to now include additional procedures designed to force employers to look past an applicant’s criminal history when making a hiring decision.  Additional requirements are unique to jurisdictional law, but most share a common theme:

  • Remove the check box from the application
  • Wait until further along in the hiring process to ask an applicant if they have a criminal history (this includes requesting a background check), for example, post interview or post offer
  • When making an adverse decision based on an applicant’s past criminal record, provide the applicant with specific details on what part of their background check caused the adverse decision, the business necessity for the decision, and in some cases, your company’s policy regarding the hiring of applicants with a criminal history

37 states, the District of Columbia, and over 150 cities and counties have adopted Ban the Box

With representation across nearly every portion of the country, 37 states now include guidelines for public-sector employment. These states include:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Further, extending fair chance law beyond government employment to private-sector employment helps ensure applicants with criminal records have a fair chance at employment across the majority of jobs. To date, fifteen states and 22 cities and counties have passed legislation to remove criminal history questions from job applications for private employers. States include:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Putting this all into perspective, it means that more than 267 million people—that’s more than four-fifths of the U.S. population—now lives in a jurisdiction with some form of fair chance law or policy.

Ban the Box and Your Employment Background Screening Program

Now, keep in mind that this evolving legislation regarding fair chance hiring does not prohibit your organization from performing criminal checks as part of your employment risk mitigation. It simply means that criminal history inquiries must be delayed until further in the hiring workflow. And, in addition to removing the “box” from employment applications, employers may be required to ask about criminal history either after an interview is completed, or after a conditional offer has been made.

As an HR professional, there’s a lot to consider (or continue to consider) as you navigate applicable Ban the Box legislation:

  • Audit your workflow. That will mean meeting regularly with your legal counsel to ensure your employment applications, related forms, and your overall hiring program is compliant.
  • While you’re at it, keep your legal counsel on speed-dial to ensure you’re updated with changes in legislation and fair chance policy. If you live in a state that isn’t impacted by Ban the Box law, it may not always be the case.
  • Take a look at job roles in your organization to further define where certain criminal history would pose increased risk among certain positions or your workplace as a whole. Likewise, there may be minimal risk opportunity within areas of your organization to extend employment to ex-offenders. This may be a good time to audit position definitions.
  • And finally, make sure you’re partnered with an employment background screening company (like A-Check Global) with updated compliance resources to help you navigate fair chance legislation and assist you in extending equal hiring practices to your applicants.

Please keep in mind that this Blog article is general in nature, and not all-inclusive in listing jurisdictions with Ban the Box law. Here is a complete listing of U.S. Cities, Counties, and States Adopting Fair-Chance Policies.

Please also note that A-Check provides a monthly compliance newsletter to keep you in the know with Ban the Box and other legislation updates, and we’d welcome the opportunity to add you to the mailing list. Simply email us at and let us know you’d like our compliance updates.

And, as always, we welcome your questions about this or any aspect of your background screening program. Please feel free to contact us.

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