“Ban the box!  Ban the Box!” The mantra is picking up steam as the movement heads across the country. What is “the box” you ask? The “box” is the small box for a checkmark found on many job applications across the country asking about one’s criminal history experience. The “Ban the Box” movement has resulted in over 100 cities and 18 states across the country enacting laws that in effect banned the box and prohibited employers from asking the question on employment applications. Many people misinterpret the box as prohibiting employers from ever considering criminal history, which the movement would likely relish; however that is not the case. Employers are still permitted to run employee background checks. It is the timing of questions about the applicant’s criminal background check that is effected by the box. 

In states that still have the box on their employment applications, employers are permitted to inquire about criminal histories on the applications and they use those answers as their first pre-employment screening and eliminate potential candidates for positions based on their having checked the box. In states that have banned the box employee background checks can still be run but they can only be inquired at the formal interview or after a conditional offer. This purportedly allows the candidate to present their best side, should they have a criminal record, without fear of being eliminated and never having a chance to get to the interview. Proponents of the movement cite high criminal history rates caused by tougher sentencing standards, especially in regard to drug offenses, which are also reportedly unfair to minority populations.

That may be true and no one would likely argue against the belief that one often deserves a second chance when they make a mistake and may be a completely different person than they were when they had their brush with the law. The question remains as to how much risk you as an employer are willing to accept. One premise of employee background checks is they are important because “the best indicator of future success is past performance.” In other words, one who has committed crimes and taken shortcuts in the past in likely to do so again in the future.

My experience in both the public sector in law enforcement and the private sector in security and loss prevention has found this premise to hold a great deal of credence. I can recall many instances where companies I have worked for decided that the CEO or other senior executive’s “gut instinct” of a person was more reliable than the pre-employment screening completed by our reputable background check company. The result was almost inevitably that the company would regret its decision to make an exception on the background check policy and hire someone with a criminal history indicative of problems. 

One included a district manager who had a history of drug offenses and a couple of tips were received indicating he was using again or still. He then is directed to take a drug test (driving himself of course) and has to stop at a local head shop to get a bag of synthetic urine that you then microwave to body temperature and attach to your leg. He probably should have not microwaved it so long as the lab technician had to inform us that our employee was in mortal danger because his urine was in excess of 110 degrees. Even after that blunder, his advocating executive let him agree to drug counseling and he was once again caught reoffending and confessed to us he never stopped since his criminal arrest for possession with intent that should have been a flag to eliminate him from consideration.

Pre-employment screening by a reputable background check company is our best defense (if we listen to them) to the risk posed by hiring someone with a checkered past.  It gives us the opportunity to evaluate the potential risk even in states where they “ban the box.” Just as the applicant deserves the right to at least get in front of you to present their experience, you deserve the right to have a background check company evaluate the risk posed by their background. You have to know it to evaluate it.

For more information on employee background checks contact us or call 1.770.426.0547.