Lawmakers seek to overturn ban on private employers’ asking employees about criminal history

Lawmakers seek to overturn ban on private employers’ asking employees about criminal history
Image: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has taken on a new meaning in liberal-run citites around the nation. Begun in Los Angeles by City Councilman Curren Price, the law known as Ban the Box prevents private employers from asking job applicants to disclose any criminal history they might have.

According to inteview with Free Speech Radio News Price boasted that “without the stigma of a criminal record, my hope is that job candidates will be evaluated solely by their skills, their qualifications and their merits.”

But now legislators are fighting back in cities like, which Austin this year became became the in Texas to adopt such a policy.

And with good reason. According to researchers at the University of Michigan and Princeton University, the requirement, which is also known as “Fair Chance,” actually exacerbates racial bias.

In Ban-the-Box cities studied, white applicants received 45% more callbacks than equally qualified black applicants. U-M law professor Sonja Starr and Princeton economist Amanda Agan theorized that employers assumed black applicants were more likely to have criminal records — even when they didn’t. Said Agan:

When you take criminal record information away, some employers seem to simply assume that black men are likely to have criminal pasts.

So black men without conviction records, who won’t be able to reveal that fact to employers, may be the ones who bear the costs of Ban the Box.

‘Hindering the hiring of minorities’

The study did not include Austin, where racial data were not available, but state Rep. Paul Workman said he’s seen enough. On Wednesday , the Austin Republican introduced House Bill 577, barring local governments from enacting laws that prohibit, limit, or regulate private employers’ ability to look into prospective employees’ criminal histories.

Dallas — which already bans the box for its public employees — is considering extending the hiring requirement to the private sector, a la Austin.

Greg Glod, senior policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice, called such regulations “inoperable” and “costly,” telling Watchdog:

You have people who are rejected two or three weeks after receiving a qualified job offer . It’s actually hindering the hiring of minorities.

So-called ‘Fair Chance’ hiring practices thrust burdensome regulations on private business while providing no return on public safety or successful re-entry.

Philip Gordon and Jennifer Mora, employment-law experts at the Littler Mendelson law firm in San Francisco, said Austin’s ordinance is “broad enough to cover virtually any type of employment.”

It includes temporary and seasonal work, contract and contingent employment, work through a temporary or other employment agency, and participation in a vocational, apprenticeship, or educational training program.

Glod said Austin’s regulation is particularly problematic for temp agencies that rely on streamlined hiring practices and for employers whose business crosses municipal jurisdictions.

“A company that has workers in Round Rock and Austin has to deal with two different ordinances,” he noted.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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