The Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly March 17 to pass a piece of legislation that “bans the box” and restricts employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications.
The new law aims to allow those with criminal convictions to have more employment opportunities without the stigma of past criminal history. In addition, supporters of the bill have said that it would help those individuals rehabilitate and reacclimate into society.
“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application.”
— Susan Berland
County legislators have been trying to pass ban-the-box legislation since last year, but the latest breakthrough came late last month when lawmakers announced they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a new amended piece of legislation. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) sponsored the bill, while Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) were co-sponsors.
“This law allows applicants with criminal records to have the opportunity to get their foot in the door, have that face-to-face with an employer and get that interview,” Berland said.
In addition, the law gives the applicant the chance to address their criminal history with a prospective employer earlier if they choose to and protects the employer’s right to investigate the backgrounds of its applicants after an initial interview.
Berland said the new amended legislation protects both sides. She believed previous versions of the bill placed too much onus on employers, requiring them to wait an extended period of time until they could inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired.
“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application,” the legislator said.
Advocates have said Suffolk County has one of the largest parole populations in the state and that one in three adults have a criminal record in the U.S. According to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but far less have actually been convicted.
Supporters of the bill have said the ban would afford people a second chance, instead of having their applications discarded on the basis of one answer. Also, it would reduce the stigma and bias associated with individuals with a criminal background. Suffolk County will join more than 150 municipalities and 35 states in the U.S. which have implemented ban-the-box laws.
“You can’t help but be affected by their stories,” Berland said. “These people have made mistakes, but they want to turn their lives around.”
Co-sponsor McCaffrey said in a statement that individuals deserve an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a job interview without being automatically disqualified. He said the legislation “strikes a fair balance.”
Gonzalez, the other co-sponsor, said he believes access to gainful employment will improve the quality of life for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, ultimately reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.
“We have been working on this legislation for quite some time — it’s a good day,” Berland said. “These are people that want to better themselves as well as families. This will get them in the door based on their application.”