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NYC companies can’t ask job applicants this question anymore


New York City has become the latest city to prohibit private companies from asking job candidates about their criminal records during the initial interview process.

In passing the legislation Wednesday, the nation’s most populous city joined a growing cadre of municipalities making the move. As of May, more than 100 cities had passed “Ban the Box” or “Fair Chance” laws, which eliminate the check box on job applications asking if jobseekers have been convicted of a crime and bar questions about prior incarcerations until after an employer has made a candidate an offer. Seventeen states have also adopted the measures, including six that enforce the policies at private employers.

Before Wednesday, New York City had banned questions about criminal records from the early stages of the application process for jobs at city contractors and agencies. The new law will apply that rule more broadly to private employers. Once an employer makes a conditional offer to a job candidate, it can run a criminal background check. If the employer decides to then rescind the offer, it must notify the applicant with a written explanation and hold the job open for three days to discuss the situation with the applicant. The law passed the city council with a 45-5 vote and it received support from a notable ex-convict, Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, a memoir about the 13 months Kerman served in prison on money-laundering charges that is now the basis for the hit Netflix (NFLX) show by the same name.

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The nationwide movement to push further into the hiring process questions about a job candidate’s criminal past is aimed at cutting down on what’s seen as discrimination against the 70 million American adults with criminal records. Early-stage questions about criminal records are also thought to have a disproportionately negative effect on persons of color, who make up more than 60% of the country’s incarcerated population. The majority of employers rely on criminal background checks despite their potentially harmful effects: almost 7 out of 10 companies use them.