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State lawmaker wants employers to stop asking jobseekers about felonies

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 17, 2020

A Cleveland lawmaker says it's time for Ohio's private-sector employers to stop asking prospective employees about felony convictions.
Sen. Sandra Williams, a Democrat, has proposed a bill that, as she puts it, would "ban the box" included on most job applications that seeks to inform an employer whether an applicant ever has been convicted on any felony charge.
Filed as Senate Bill 70, the "bill will allow for applicants to present themselves and their qualifications as a whole, rather than having their prior conviction end their hope for employment at the moment they submit their application," Williams told fellow senators seated for the Transportation, Commerce and Workforce Committee.
The measure neither prohibits an employer from completing a criminal records check or from asking an applicant about prior arrests or convictions during the interview, she said.
"Put simply, this legislation removes the first barrier to employment for people with criminal records who wish to become contributing members of society," Williams said. "Employment is the single most influencing factor in decreasing recidivism."
Citing data from Justice Quarterly, the lawmaker noted that ex-offender employees with felony convictions avoid re-incarceration at twice the rate of the unemployed two years after release from prison.
"Employers often refuse to consider applicants with criminal records, which significantly obstruct potential employment options for years to come," she said. "Seventy-five percent of ex-offenders were jobless up to a year after release," the 2011 date provided.
The national jobless rate hovered between 8.5 and 9 percent in 2011 - more than twice the current unemployment rate.
Williams said incarceration negatively affects the upward mobility and economic prospects of former offenders.
"According to a study by The Pew Center, incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic males by 6 percent and of African American males by 9 percent," she said. "This depression of economic prospects does not end with former inmates, but extends to their families.
"SB 70 will enable former offenders to become contributing members of society, and positively impact his or her family, communities and society as a whole."
Analysis provided by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission detailed that the prohibition applies to an applicant's conviction of or guilty plea to a felony in Ohio or any other jurisdiction.
"Public employers are subject to a similar prohibition under current law," attorney Kelly Bomba wrote for the commission. "Continuing law prohibits a public employer from including on any employment application form any question concerning an applicant's criminal background.
"That law allows a public employer to include on any employment application form a statement notifying an applicant of any provision of state or federal law that disqualifies an individual with a particular criminal history from employment in a particular position."
The bill does not include a penalty for violating the prohibition.
"SB 70 would join Ohio with 13 other states that have also mandated the removal of conviction history questions from job applications for private employers," Williams concluded.
"This is a crucial step toward ensuring that people with records have a fair chance at employment in the majority of jobs."
The bill, which boasts four co-sponsors, had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication.
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