Philly Bans Felon Question on Job Applications

"Ban the Box" ordinance aimed at reducing ex-offender job discrimination

Monday, Apr 18, 2011  |  Updated 4:20 PM EDT
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Philly Bans Felon Question on Job Applications

NBCPhiladelphia.com

Mayor Nutter signs legislation to prevent job discrimination against ex-offenders.

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has signed an ordinance banning employers from asking about a person's criminal history on job applications.

The City of Brotherly Love becomes the latest big U.S. city to enact the so-called "ban the box" legislation.

“What I need to know is that you want to turn your life around, that’s the most important thing that any employer wants to know," Mayor Nutter said.

The law, which applies to city agencies and private employers, prohibits City agencies and private employers from knowingly inquiring about criminal backgrounds and arrests on the application for a position. Following an initial interview with the prospective employee, the employer may perform a background check. If an employer does not conduct an interview, no inquiry can be made into the applicant’s criminal history.

"It is already difficult for ex-offenders to get their foot in the door and obtain employment following incarceration, Nutter, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This bill makes it a little easier to be considered for a job without harmful preconceptions by an employer before the first interview."

Chicago, Boston and several other cities have adopted similar measures.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lauded the legislation, and the head of the civil rights organization was on hand when Nutter signed the bill.

“The City of Brotherly Love set a great example in taking back Michael Vick," Benjamin Todd Jealous, the NAACP's president and CEO, said. "Sadly, he is not the only formerly incarcerated person who deserves a second chance."

In 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick after he served 18 months in federal prison on dogfighting charges. He made the Pro Bowl last season.

"As his second chance has shown all of us, work is redemptive and people are capable of great transformation,” said Jealous.

Some business groups, including the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, opposed the law. The chamber supported tax-breaks Philadelphia has offered for employers who hire ex-offenders. It raised concerns that employers would face more anti-discrimination lawsuits under the new law.

About 65 million Americans, or one in four, have a criminal record, while 90 percent of employers use criminal background checks, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project, which released a report on the issue last month.

"Everyone deserves the chance to work and to provide for their families," Mayor Nutter said.

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