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State bans criminal history question from job apps

Advocates of ‘ban the box’ said it helps felons re-integrate into society by limiting discrimination

Employers in Rhode Island can no longer ask job applicants about their criminal backgrounds, following the implementation of a law Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 signed July 15.

“This provides basic protections from discrimination for people with a criminal record,” said Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, a sponsor of the so-called “ban the box” legislation in the House, according to a July 15 state press release.

The legislation only prohibits employers from asking about criminal backgrounds on a job application, but they still may ask about past convictions in a job interview and seek formal criminal background checks.

Under state law, employers may only disqualify an applicant with a criminal background if the crime of which the applicant was convicted has a “direct relationship” to the sought-after position, The Herald reported in March.

The term “ban the box” stems from the box that previously appeared on many Rhode Island job applications requesting information about an applicant’s criminal history.

“People who have made mistakes need to be able to move on, to move forward with their lives, and we need to change our laws to allow them, even encourage them, to do so,” said Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill ultimately signed by Chafee. “They are not being allowed to do so if every job application they fill out looks like an instant dead-end because of that one question about criminal history.”

The bill passed over the opposition of business groups, like the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, whose members were concerned the bill would make it harder for businesses to prevent crime in their workplaces, The Herald reported in March. “Not only is (non-compliance with federal law) a concern, but there is a further concern about safety and potential employer liability,” the North Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce posted on its website. The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce never officially took a position on the legislation.

Along with “banning the box,” the legislation also provides parolees with the opportunity to receive a “certificate of recovery and re-entry,” an official document indicating they have accomplished rehabilitation and are prepared to re-enter society.

Massachusetts and Connecticut have also passed legislation that “bans the box."


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