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03/05/2013

News / Rhode Island considers bill to ban criminal history questions in preliminary job interviews

A group of Rhode Island representatives has introduced a bill that would ban employers from asking job seekers about their criminal histories on job applications or during preliminary interviews. The legislation is part of the larger “ban the box” movement, named for the box present on many job applications that asks candidates about their criminal history.

The bill was introduced by Democratic Representative Scott Slater and is co-sponsored by Republican Michael Chippendale, local newspaper the Brown Daily Herald reports.

The measure would give applicants “a chance to be considered on their qualifications, not immediately rejected from consideration because of a wrong decision in their past for which they have paid their debt to society,” Slater stated in a press release.

Chippendale noted that having a stable job and source of income is an important factor in preventing convicted felons from going back to their criminal ways.

“I have consciously hired previously incarcerated individuals with the goals of helping them get their feet back on the ground, offering them an opportunity to become productive members of society, helping reduce recidivism and the corresponding burden on our prison systems and welfare programs,” Chippendale wrote.

The representative also noted that many media outlets were misinterpreting the bill by saying that it would force employers to hire felons whose specific convictions disqualify them from certain jobs – such as convicted sex offenders applying for a job at a school.

“An applicant can in fact be disqualified if there is a ‘direct relationship’ with their criminal history and the nature of the job being sought,” Chippendale stated.

Employers will be able to ask about a criminal background and run background checks to determine whether such a “direct relationship” exists only after they have determined that the applicant is a serious candidate for the job. They would be allowed to reject candidates if federal or state laws bar individuals with their past convictions from holding the positions they are applying for.

The bill is also backed by the Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and will be discussed in the House Labor Committee later this month. A date to vote on the legislation has not been set, and the Senate is yet to schedule hearings on the bill.

The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce has been one of the most outspoken critics of the proposal, DARE organizer Misty Wilson said.

“Not only is (non-compliance with federal law) a concern but there is a further concern about safety and potential employer liability,” The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce states on its website.

A number of counties and cities, including Rhode Island capital Providence and Boston, the capital and largest city of the neighboring state of Massachusetts, have already adopted similar legislation prohibiting employers from asking about a job seeker’s criminal history on the application. “Ban the box” legislation has also been adopted in seven states, according to the 2012 National Employment Law Project report Resource Guide.

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