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Council might ban the box as part of hiring mandate

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Sometimes, a potential law goes by two names.

But other times, it goes by one – while confusion breeds alternative monikers. City Council members have spent the past year chewing over hiring requirements for private employers. But recently, Council Member Ellen Troxclair expressed some confusion about what to call this: “ban the box” or a “fair-chance hiring” ordinance?

Troxclair talked over potential mandates with business owners who shared in her confusion: “They thought we were just considering ‘ban the box,’ which is honestly kind of what I thought we were talking about early spring last year, when we first considered it,” she said from the dais last week.

Question #1: What is “ban the box”?

“Ban the box” is a movement to remove from employment applications the check-box through which an applicant declares having a criminal history. According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 100 cities and counties have implemented similar policies for local employers.

Here is Holly Kirby, of nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, defining “ban the box” and explaining why her organization supports the passage of a more comprehensive ordinance by Council:

Question #2: What is a “fair-chance hiring” ordinance, and how is it related to “ban the box”?

A fair-chance hiring law can be molded to a specific city’s needs, and adopting one does not mean a municipality is adopting any one requirement in particular. In Austin’s case, banning the box is just one facet of the fair-chance hiring ordinance Council members are considering. Listen to Council Member Greg Casar explain this nuance:

Question #3: Which one will Council vote on?

Council members will be voting on a fair-chance hiring ordinance that includes banning the box, most likely at its meeting on March 24. The law would apply to private companies employing 15 or more people, and it would establish a civil penalty of up to $100 per job for employers (although the city has proposed a phase-in of this penalty, so that employers have a chance to be educated about the new law).

In October, Council’s Economic Opportunity Committee voted 3-0 in support of banning the box, but as Casar explains, the vote was symbolic:

Question #4: Sounds great. What, if any, are some concerns?

One part of the drafted ordinance would make it unlawful for an employer to run a background check any time before extending a job offer to a finalist. That job offer could be conditional, though, depending on what the employer finds after probing the candidate’s criminal history.

Austin Chamber of Commerce Vice President Drew Scheberle said the chamber board’s biggest concern is this portion of the proposed ordinance:

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

Photo by Katya Boltanova made available through a Creative Commons license.

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