Labor committee hears “Ban the Box” proposal, which would bar employers from asking about criminal convictions on job applications
In a public hearing on Wednesday, February 19, 2020, the Joint Standing Committee on Labor and Housing held a public hearing on LD 2087, An Act Relating to Fair Chance in Employment,” sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland). More than a dozen states have enacted similar laws – the purpose of which is to encourage the hiring of people with a criminal record. Rep. Talbot Ross has had similar, but more disconcerting proposals in past sessions. This year, she took a more pragmatic approach, limiting her bill just to prohibiting employers from asking about a prospective employee’s previous criminal convictions on any written or electronic job application.
As drafted, LD 2087 does allow an employer to ask such questions during the job interview and to conduct criminal background checks. In addition, it does not make people with a previous criminal history a protected class for the purposes of hiring and does allow an employer to decline to hire the individual for that or any reason, other than those already prohibited under Maine and federal law.
The idea behind the proposal is to give good workers who have rehabilitated themselves and are willing and able to work a chance to get into the interview process without being disqualified just because of their criminal history. Many Maine employers today are already hiring applicants with a previous criminal history, in part because of the acute workforce shortage and in part because they are willing to take a chance on someone who is working to rebuild their lives for the better. In many cases, our members indicated that these hires have worked out for the better for both parties. Supporters of the proposal indicated that, if a prospective hire can at least get through the door, they have the chance to sell themselves and become an asset to the business.
The bill does provide exemptions for employers who operate under any federal or state law or regulation or rule that creates a mandatory or presumptive disqualification based on any conviction, for instance the banking or financial industry and the health care industry.
The Maine State Chamber testified “neither for nor against” at the public hearing for this bill. Our policy committee members did not have an issue dropping the question from any job application – as long as they were able to ask the question during an interview, could conduct a criminal background check, and the final decision of hiring any employee remained in the hands of the employer, allowing them to be the best judge of whether a prospective employee, with a criminal past or not, was the best fit for their workplace.
The proposal was by no means a perfect bill, and there remain problems with some of the provisions in the language. The committee is aware of these problems – thanks to the Maine State Chamber’s testimony – and will attempt to address them in an upcoming work session. For questions or additional information, please contact Peter Gore by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 107, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.