Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a hiring policy for state agencies that will remove the criminal conviction question from employment applications.
The Democratic governor noted that the “Fair-Chance” policy change, known more commonly as “banning the box”, reaffirms his administration’s commitment to reducing barriers for Pennsylvanians who seek the opportunity to work and contribute to their communities.
The policy has been a popular one in recent years, with Barack Obama instituting the policy on federal-government employment applications during his second term, and at least 26 other states since 1998 banning the box within their own state agencies.
The change will become effective in the commonwealth on July 1 and apply to all non-civil service applications for agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. The Office of Administration anticipates that the policy could be applied to civil service applications by December. The policy will not affect employment applications within private companies.
It is imperative to note that exceptions to the policy will be made for positions where a criminal conviction makes an applicant ineligible under law and for positions responsible for the safeguarding or security of people or property, law enforcement, or those involving contact with vulnerable populations.
Governor Wolf noted last week that while the state has a “robust system” of rehabilitative services for those re-entering the community from incarceration, the criminal conviction section of an application can greatly jeopardize their future to put their lives back on track and get the skills they need to get a job.
“Too often, one small check-mark can jeopardize the future that we all need them to pursue and reach. Banning the box will allow prospective applicants with criminal records to be judged on their skills and qualifications and not solely on their criminal history, while preserving a hiring agency’s ability to appropriately screen applicants as part of the hiring process,” Wolf said.
The policy doesn’t completely end the state’s conversation on criminal history with a potential employee, it just delays the discussion until later on in the hiring process – leaving some to believe that when employers cannot access an applicant’s criminal history, they instead discriminate more broadly against demographic groups that are more likely to have ‘checked yes’ if the criminal conviction question was still asked.