CITY OF PHILADELPHIA PASSES ORDINANCE TO RESTRICT INQUIRIES INTO CRIMINAL HISTORY

by Art Gutman Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology

As reported by BNA, Philadelphia PA Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed the so-called “Ban the Box” bill on April 13, 2011 prohibiting both public and private employers from divulging their criminal history until after a first employment interview. The ordinance applies to employers with 10 or more employees. Exemptions are made for criminal justice agencies (e.g., police department, courts, prisons, etc.). The stated logic behind the bill is that nearly 20% of the city’s population has a criminal record, and that by routinely conducting criminal background checks, employer set the stage for a “lifetime of discrimination” for near nearly 3,200 people that are released from the Philadelphia prison system each year. According to the bill’s statement of legislative findings and purpose, the ordinance is designed to provide job applicants with criminal records “an opportunity to be judged on his or her own merit during the submission of the application and at least until the completion of one interview”. The ordinance prohibits employers from inquiries into criminal history from the time the applicant applies to before or during the first phone or in-person interview. Employers who do not conduct interviews are prohibited from making any criminal history inquiries, and are prohibited from taking any adverse action based on arrests that do not result in conviction or pending charges. The Philadelphia City Counsel voted 13-4 to approve the ordinance, which goes into effect 90 days after the mayor signed it.

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