These signs are now coalescing into a full-fledged attempt to elevate felons into America's newest protected class. Massachusetts now prohibits employers from asking about criminal records on initial employment applications, except under certain limited circumstances. The city of Cleveland will no longer ask applicants whether they have ever been convicted of felonies.
In fact, over 30 cities, including Detroit and Kalamazoo here in the Enchanted Mitten, have joined the "ban the box" (BTB) movement to prohibit any job application questions about a prospective employee's criminal history. Litigation is pending in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and California, designed to hold employers responsible for discrimination because they asked for criminal histories on their job applications.
The professed theory behind BTB is that by removing criminal history as an automatic disqualifier at the outset, more felons will be able to get deeper into the application process and be judged on their positive qualities, not just on their criminal records. This is obviously based on the premise that, for many jobs, a felony history is irrelevant and should not disqualify the applicant,
The BTB theory falls apart, however, when one looks at the later stages of this new employment process.
Let's take a look at Detroit's approach. Section 13-1-12 of the City Code provides:
Except as provided for in section 13-114 of this Code, the City of Detroit shall not inquire into or consider the criminal conviction of an applicant for employment with the City of Detroit until the applicant is being interviewed or is otherwise qualified for employment by the City.In other words, don't ask until later.
This approach comes completely asunder with subparagraph 2 of Section 13-1-14:
This division does not limit the right of the City:So, you can't ask about a criminal conviction on the application, but you can take it into consideration any other time you feel like it.
(2) To otherwise take into consideration during the hiring process a potential employee's criminal conviction[.]
What kind of protection is that?
Answer: it is no protection at all, but it allows the City to say it is doing something to help felons and, more importantly, it reveals the lie inherent in the "ban the box" lunacy -- while pretending to assist felons in re-entry into the workplace and society, the code contains a loophole big enough to drive a stolen semi through. And it's all to protect the people who really need protecting -- city employees.
Despite the hypocrisy and empty promises, it's only a matter of time before BTB-types step up the pressure and start getting real concessions from city leaders. At some point, it will be completely illegal to inquire at any time into an applicant's criminal background and, given the growing segment of our population with felony records, our government offices will be staffed with sizable percentages of felons.
Then crime won't just be for our elected officials. But, that's just my crystal ball talking.