Idahoans with felony criminal records may have an easier time getting a job if a proposed bill comes to fruition.
The legislation, called the Fair Chance Employment Act, doesn’t let employers include language in job ads to exclude people with criminal convictions or ask about a criminal conviction on a job application. Employers can ask about criminal convictions after the applicant has been determined qualified for the position and selected for an interview.
In addition, employers must perform an individual assessment on an applicant before denying them a job based on a criminal conviction. This assessment includes the nature and gravity of the offense, the amount of time that has passed and the nature of the job and its relevance to the conviction.
“It doesn’t preclude employers from doing due diligence,” said Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, who is sponsoring the legislation. “If you want to work for a bank, you can’t be a bank robber.”
Buckner-Webb attempted similar legislation in the 2018 and 2019 sessions, but it didn’t progress due to some legislator concerns, she said. To address those concerns, the bill has been rewritten to clarify definitions and intent, as well as to be cleaned up and shorter, Buckner-Webb said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, which has also been working on the legislation for several years, did listening sessions around the state this summer, Buckner-Webb said.
“We would like to bring it as we first go into session,” she said.
Nationwide, 35 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted some form of “Fair Chance” legislation, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a New York -based nonprofit that follows the issue. Altogether, more than 258 million people in the United States, or more than 75% of the population, now live in a jurisdiction with some form of fair chance policy, the organization said. This includes residents of Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. In addition, 13 states – including Oregon and Washington – have mandated the removal of conviction history questions from job applications for private employers as well, according to the NELP.
The District of Columbia and 31 cities and counties extend fair-chance hiring policies to government contractors, while 18 of those cities and counties – including Portland and Spokane – cover private employers as well, according to the NELP.
Businesses taking steps
A number of national businesses with an Idaho presence have also taken the initiative to implement fair chance policies. One example is JPMorgan Chase, with 143 employees in Idaho among 20 branches.
“We recognize that business has a role to play to help more people share in the benefits of economic growth,” said Cat Martin, a Seattle-based program officer for the JPMorgan Chase Foundation for the Pacific Northwest.
JPMorgan Chase stopped asking about criminal convictions in 2018, partly because a number of states had adopted legislation to preclude employers from inquiring, said Monique Baptiste, program officer for corporate responsibility, based in New York.
“We decided to be proactive instead of doing it as a domino,” she said.
The financial services organization doesn’t conduct a background check until the applicant has a conditional offer in hand, Baptiste said. “We wanted the fit for the role to be paramount,” she said.
Due to Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation regulations, banks cannot hire people with certain convictions.
“There are certain crimes of dishonesty,” Baptiste said. “We’re not going to hire someone who was convicted of bank robbery to run our bank.”
Otherwise, it is evaluating each applicant individually. So far, about 10% of Chase’s annual hires, about 2,100 people, had criminal backgrounds, Baptiste said.
“They have the same chance to thrive as their co-workers,” she said.