The Fair Chance Act introduced this month would prohibit federal contractors and federal agencies from asking job applicants about their criminal history until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. The new legislation follows other changes for federal contractors, including a higher minimum wage and sick leave.
The legislation has bipartisan support with US Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., introducing the legislation in the Senate and Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., introducing it in the House.
Federal law currently does not preclude federal employers from asking a formerly incarcerated person about their past crimes at any stage of the job interview, according to the legislators. The Fair Chance Act would prohibit the question until a conditional offer of employment is made, but there would be exceptions for law enforcement, positions with access to classified information and in a few other circumstances.
The legislators note 18 states and 100 cities and counties across the US have already implemented “Ban the Box” policies, as have companies such as Walmart; Koch Industries; Target; Home Depot; and Bed, Bath & Beyond have also taken up ban the box policies.
“There are millions of Americans with records who are quickly passed over by employers without considering their skills or qualifications because of their history,” Booker said. “Sadly, this approach only increases the likelihood of recidivism at great cost to taxpayers and communities in New Jersey and across the country. The Fair Chance Act seeks to dismantle this unfair barrier in federal hiring to ensure these Americans are given a second chance and a fairer shot at making a better life for themselves.”
Ban the Box laws such as this one generally expand on controversial guidelines released by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2012, according to an article from law firm Jackson Lewis PC.
“This legislation is simply bringing federal law into line with the laws sweeping across the US,” said Fiona Coombe, Staffing Industry Analysts’ director of Legal and Regulatory Research. “It will have relatively little impact on staffing firms and businesses which have already implemented a change in hiring procedures to comply with these laws. Employers must make sure they understand the specific regulations applicable in the jurisdictions in which they operate and adapt their recruitment process to ensure that a criminal record enquiry only takes place after eligibility for a role is established and a conditional offer of employment has been made.”
Separately, President Obama signed an executive order on Labor Day requiring sick leave for employees of federal contractors. The order enables workers to earn up to seven days or more of sick leave per year.
The requirement applies to all federal contracts awarded on or after Jan. 1, 2017, according to a report by law firm Day Pitney LLP. And another report by law firm Paul Hastings LLP says the new rule and other changes could make challenges for federal contractors.
The minimum wage for federal contractors will also be going up further. In February 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13658, raising the hourly minimum wage for federal contracts to $10.10 per hour beginning Jan. 1, 2015. And last week, the Secretary of Labor announced the minimum wage for federal contractors will go up to $10.15 per hour. It will go up to $5.85 per hour for tipped employees from $4.90 per hour.