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Roanoke City Council should consider a ‘Ban the Box’ ordinance so as not to discourage applicants with a conviction, perhaps long ago, from applying.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
With its online application system, Roanoke makes it super easy for people to apply to work for the city — people, that is, who have never run afoul of the law, including a traffic cop.
Those with a conviction, even for a moving traffic violation, are forced to disclose the offense at the same time their qualifications are initially screened — without much opportunity to explain. While asking about convictions and conducting criminal background checks are common practices for public and private employers, the timing of the question makes all the difference as to whether a former offender has a fair shot at landing an interview and, eventually, a job.
Richmond City Council last week recognized that its application, similar to Roanoke’s, was keeping former offenders from applying for jobs that otherwise they may be well qualified to perform. So the council joined a national movement, Ban the Box, and adopted an ordinance that prevents asking questions on initial applications about criminal convictions except for positions that council has determined would not be subject to this prohibition, such as public safety jobs.
Roanoke City Council should consider doing so as well. Convictions are not a barrier to employment with the city. In fact, Roanoke’s Department of Human Resources reports that applicants even with felony convictions have been hired in public works, general services, and parks and recreation. But depending on the type of crime and the job sought, a conviction would likely send the application to the rejection pile, especially for jobs relating to public safety or handling money or requiring contact with children and the elderly.
Which is how it should be. An employer would not seek to hire an embezzler as an accountant or a pedophile as a youth counselor.
But convictions for many types of crimes, especially when committed long ago, are not applicable for all jobs. Those with records may not bother to apply when asked to disclose this at the same time they are attempting to present their best qualifications. Employers, like The Roanoke Times for example, can have a more informal online application that asks about convictions, excluding traffic violations, but assures that it will not necessarily disqualify the applicant. Job seekers can skip the question or upload a résumé instead, though the question does come up later during the hiring process.
The city, as good employers do, seeks to hire the most qualified applicant to fill positions. To ensure it is getting the best pool from which to select, council should weigh the value of removing the box barrier for applicable positions.
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