New Year, New Application Rules for New Orleans City Contractors
Does your employment application ask whether job applicants have ever been convicted of or plead guilty or no contest to any criminal offense? Do you ask that question (or some variation of it) on your job application or do you conduct a background check upon receiving an initial job application? If you have contracts with the City of New Orleans that you hope to renew or wish to enter into any such agreements, it may be time to revise your application and your procedure for conducting background checks.
“Ban the Box” Ordinance
New Orleans recently passed an ordinance to “ban the box,” a reference to a box on an application asking whether an applicant has a criminal record. This ordinance prohibits the City and its contractors from asking job applicants about their criminal history on initial employment applications and mandates that criminal background checks only be conducted after an applicant has been given an initial interview. These rules do not affect private companies that are not doing business with the City.
Why the Change?
“Ban the box” has been a trend for the last few years. More than half the states and more than 150 cities and counties have already adopted this “ban the box” procedure. And, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission continues to scrutinize criminal record screening policies and to suggest deferring inquiries about convictions until after the application phase.
The goal of “ban the box” is to give individuals with criminal records a better chance to find employment where the focus is on a candidate’s qualifications without the stigma of a criminal record. The delay in asking about criminal records until after the application phase is intended to offer these individuals a chance to be interviewed, put their best foot forward, and shift the consideration for employment to the merits of their skills and experience, rather than a criminal record.
Your New Years’ Resolution
The “ban the box” ordinance becomes effective on March 1, 2019. If you’re already doing business with the City of New Orleans and renewing a contract or hoping to enter into a new agreement, now’s the time to take a look at your employment application and procedure for conducting background checks. Going forward, you can’t require prospective employees to list their criminal histories on initial applications, and you have to conduct at least one interview before inquiring about criminal records. If you’re not following this policy, the City can cancel your contract. If you have questions about what you can and can’t ask on an application or during the interview process, contact your employment counsel for help. It’s better to be safe than sorry – especially if the result is a messy failure-to-hire lawsuit.