Three key words have changed how employers are looking at applicants with criminal backgrounds: Ban the Box.

Across the country, cities and states are enacting legislation, called "Ban the Box," which prohibits employers from asking job seekers about their criminal background on applications.

The "box" they want to ban is the check box on applications asking whether or not you've got a criminal record.

Philadelphia was the most recent city to pass a law against employers asking candidates their criminal background in the initial interview.

The Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards, which goes into effect in Philadelphia on July 13, ensures equal employment opportunity for those with a criminal history. Employers are prohibited from questioning candidates about criminal history both on the application and in a first interview. They also cannot touch on any arrests that didn’t result in conviction.

If they violate this law, the employer faces a $2,000 penalty.

Temporary agencies are not exempt from this, according to Philadelphia’s new law. An ex-offender on the Crime Report website said temp agencies were instrumental in getting his foot in the door for jobs.

However, he said, companies “do not know that I have a criminal record because the temp agency was not obligated to share that info.” He said that whenever he applies for a full-time job at one of these companies, he is denied because of his record. The same company that claims he was a great contractor denies him a job, most likely because of the little box on the application.

Is this fair? The gentleman is making the effort to get his life in order and wants to be able to pay his bills.

There are staffing agencies out there supporting the placement of ex-offenders.  Interestingly, none of the Philadelphia-based temp agencies that were contacted to comment on their feelings toward the new law responded to my calls. Maybe it’s a little more controversial than we thought.

While Ban the Box seems a valiant attempt at creating opportunities for criminals struggling to rebuild their lives, legislation like this may be a false security blanket for individuals with a criminal history.

Blogger Bill Johnson offers up the opinion that “giving offenders hope and a ‘second chance’ discriminates against good kids.” He feels that, had the offenders never have gone that route in the first place or been properly brought up, Ban the Box laws would be unnecessary. The government’s first job is to protect the citizens, he said. I don't necessarily agree with Johnson's definition of discrimination.

What happens when equal opportunity screws us over? Without the added information a background check provides us, we could be working next to a rapist, armed robber or pedophile.

The law does not keep criminal justice agencies from performing criminal background checks.

These checks may not have been getting done in the first place.

Attorney Les Rosen, who happens to be president of the screening firm Employment Screening Resources, says that some staffing firms are already reluctant to conduct pre-employment screening. Cost is a factor, Rosen says, as is the amount of time it takes to get the results back from a background check. This is why some firms don’t do a background check unless the client requires it.

Rosen said this is a mistake, though.

“A staffing agency’s worst nightmare is sending out a temporary worker or a candidate for permanent placement who has a criminal record. Should that person harm a co-worker or member of the public, the staffing company will certainly be sued.”

Graham Staffing Services shared its story of a temporary agency whose employee ran off with the company van and money while on a bank deposit run, never to return.

What are your thoughts on Ban the Box? As a staffing firm, are you in favor of or against this legislation?

Tags: Temporary agency, Criminal background check, Staffing Firms, Industry, Ban the Box, Criminal history, Equal employment opportunity, Ex-offender, Fair Criminal Record Screening Standards, Philadelphia