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Are “Ban the Box” Laws Discriminatory?

Posted on October 9, 2017 Author:

“Ban the Box” rules forbid employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record on applications. These rules are meant to protect prospective employees from discrimination based on criminal history. However, some are saying that Ban the Box just trades one form of discrimination for another. Is there logic behind this argument?

California Ban the Box Law

California implemented Ban the Box regulations on July 1, 2017.

Aaron Hedlund, an economics professor at the University of Missouri explains that based on evidence suggesting employers stop considering prospective employees upon discovering a criminal record, the idea of Ban the Box is sound. However, this leads to what he describes as “statistical discrimination.”

He explains that economists studying these types of laws found that when employers cannot determine someone’s criminal background easily, they seek out other inferences that might help them figure it out. Things like tattoos, race or even a person’s name could lead employers to jump to conclusions. From there on, employers will sometimes discriminate against minority applicants if they already believe that minorities are more likely to commit crimes.

There is some data that supports this idea. Princeton University and the University of Michigan Law School published a study in 2016 of minority callback rates for jobs before and after the adoption of Ban the Box. They found that upon passage of Ban the Box, white applicants were more likely to receive interviews or job offers than minority applicants.

What do you think? Is Ban the Box necessary to protect the rights of formerly convicted Californians? Or is a well-intentioned, yet ineffective tool that increases racial bias in hiring?