A new law that removes conviction history checkboxes from job applications takes effect in Suffolk County on Aug. 25.
This type of legislation is referred to as a “Ban the Box” policy, under which employers remove questions about criminal history from job applications or postpone background checks until a later time in the hiring process. The aim of such policies is to protect individuals with criminal histories from employment discrimination by allowing job candidates to make a first impression based on their credentials instead of having their application tossed out because of a single checkmark.
Under the new Suffolk County law, employers with 15 employees or more cannot inquire about a prospective employee’s prior criminal conviction on a job application. The employer can inquire later in the hiring process – after an initial interview, or after an application is filed if there is no interview. The job applicant then has a chance to explain the circumstances of the convictions.
I was proud to support “banning the box” in Suffolk County. When the law was first proposed, it was called “a local law to ensure a second chance,” and I believe in second chances. Ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society and are looking to rebuild their lives deserve and need the opportunity. The roadblock created by the “box” can often leave ex-offenders with a sense that they have no options but to turn back to prior bad decisions. It has been proven that by removing the conviction history checkbox from applications there is increase in employment opportunities for people with criminal convictions, providing access to gainful employment. The financial stability of employment in turn greatly reduces the risk of recidivism and greatly increases the chances that an individual becomes a productive member of society. Importantly, this law is a major step towards ending structural discrimination against those with criminal records. In the big picture, fair hiring practices coupled with fair housing initiatives will help ensure that every person has an equal opportunity to work and live in Suffolk County.
There are some exceptions to the law. The prohibitions do not apply to the Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, or to any other employer hiring for police officer and peace officer positions. They also do not apply to any public or private school, or anyone who provides services specific to the care or supervision of children, young adults, senior citizens, or the physically or mentally disabled. Violations of the law may be filed with the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, which has discretion over penalties when a discrimination complaint is found to have probable cause. Visit them at www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/Human-Rights-Commission.
When this law becomes effective, Suffolk County will join a national movement to strengthen laws against discrimination based on a person’s criminal history. More than 30 states and over 150 cities have passed some form of Ban the Box legislation. In New York, legislation is also on the books in Albany, Buffalo, Dutchess, Ithaca, Kingston, Newburgh, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Tompkins, Ulster, Westchester, Woodstock and Yonkers.
The evolution of this law from start to finish is a prime example of the legislative process and how several sides can come together to create a product that helps residents. Suffolk County’s Ban the Box law was passed in March of this year with bipartisan sponsorship and support, but the journey began a year before that.
Former presiding officer DuWayne Gregory took the lead with the law, introducing a version in March of 2019. Earlier iterations were a bit more expansive in scope, and some legislators were concerned that it put too many restrictions and an unfair burden on businesses. In true bipartisan fashion, three legislators came together to create something that ultimately passed with great support. The final version of the law, with Legis. Susan A. Berland as the lead sponsor and legislators Samuel Gonzalez and Kevin McCaffrey as cosponsors, strikes a fair balance of protecting employers and prospective employees. I am proud of my colleagues for working together to produce a meaningful piece of legislation by listening and compromising; something our leaders in Washington, D.C., should do more often.
One of the many things we have been reminded of these last few months is that we are all human. Let this new law reflect Suffolk County residents’ commitment to looking out for each other and lifting each other up when we can.