Law Offices of Lauren Abrams blog

"Ban the box" may lead to more racial discrimination

For California residents who have recently been released from prison, finding a job can be a challenge. They have criminal records that could be found by potential employers and gaps in their employment histories that may be difficult to explain at interviews. In an effort to help ex-prisoners avoid discrimination while they look for work, some cities and states have instituted 'ban the box" policies for job applications.

Jurisdictions with this type of legislation do not allow employers to create job applications that include criminal-record check boxes. Though it was intended to prevent employment discrimination, the policy might actually lead to discrimination against black and Hispanic job applicants.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that the policies hurt the employment prospects of young, non-college educated, low-skilled black and Hispanic men. Researchers found that when criminal histories are hidden for all job applicants, employers tend to discriminate against demographic groups that have the highest rates of incarceration. Instead of assuming the best about job applicants who haven't revealed their criminal histories, employers actually assume the worst.

Companies that do not hire black and Hispanic job applicants because they assume that they have criminal histories might be violating federal and state laws against racial discrimination, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those who feel that they were turned down for a job because of their race may want to have legal assistance when filing an employment discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

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