October 01, 2015

Senate committee approves Fair Chance Act

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bipartisan bill Oct. 7 that would ensure that individuals with criminal records have a fair chance for employment with the federal government and federal contractors.

S. 2021, the Fair Chance Act of 2015, would require the federal government and federal contractors to postpone requests for criminal history information from job applicants until the applicants have received a conditional offer of employment.

“By encouraging federal employers to focus on an individual’s qualifications and merit, and not solely on past mistakes, the Fair Chance Act would remove burdensome and unnecessary obstacles that prevent formerly incarcerated people from reaching their full potential and contributing to society,” said sponsor Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who introduced the bill with committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “It would also help reduce recidivism, combat poverty and prevent violence in our communities by helping people get back to work.”

More than 70 million adults have arrests or convictions that will show up on routine background checks. Although considerable strides have been made to ensure that civil rights laws are being upheld and to provide guidance to employers on the appropriate use of background check information, many employers continue to utilize blanket prohibitions and questions regarding criminal history to exclude persons with prior records from employment before even considering those individuals, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman pointed out in an Oct. 6 letter to the committee.

He cited a study in New York City showing that a disclosure of a criminal record by an otherwise qualified applicant can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent. “Such hiring practices often have an even more acute impact on individuals from low-income communities of color, due to the racial profiling and discrimination practices that persist at all stages of the justice system,” Susman wrote.

Susman said that the bill would apply the same fair chance hiring principles, known as “ban the box,” to the federal government and federal contractors that have been embraced by more than 100 jurisdictions, including 19 states, the District of Columbia and more than 100 cities and counties. In addition, major corporations − Home Depot, Target Corporation, Starbucks, Walmart and Koch Industries − also have joined the movement.

He emphasized that the bill does not prevent federal agencies or federal contractors from considering criminal history; it only delays consideration of criminal history so that all applicants are afforded a fair chance at consideration for employment.

There are exceptions in the bill for positions related to law enforcement and national security positions, those requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history before the consideration stage is required by law.

“The Fair Chance Act of 2015 will provide millions of Americans with equal access to federal employment opportunities and set an example for states and private employers to adopt fair chance policies that relieve workplace reentry barriers,” Susman concluded.

A companion bill, H.R. 3470, was introduced in the House by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

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