Bill Would Change Criminal Background Inquiries by Employers

Nov 15, 2011

Pittsburgh City Council is now considering a bill that would force nearly all Pittsburgh-based businesses to remove any criminal background inquiries from the pages of their job applications.

Instead, the legislation would allow employers to ask applicants about past convictions during interviews, an effort to let former offenders explain the nature of their legal troubles and their rehabilitative efforts.

Dean Williams, Director of the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project, said that the bill doesn't force employers to hire formerly convicted individuals, but rather prevents those applicants from being weeded out immediately.

"It gives people an opportunity to explain who they are and what they've gone through, as opposed to being represented by a box on the front of an application, which is ridiculous," said Williams.

Supporters of the measure met with Council Members on Tuesday to explain and promote the bill, which was written by Williams and Councilman Ricky Burgess.

Tim Stevens, Chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said that formerly convicted persons who can't find work often revert back to criminal activity.

"Crimes of the past must not dictate the future," said Stevens. "In this regard, such individuals must be given the chance to start their lives anew, which can impact significantly the recidivism rate in this region."

Stevens called on Pittsburgh's business and corporate community to endorse the legislation by making an effort to hire formerly convicted individuals, a policy he said would reduce crime and violence.

Similar "ban the box" legislation has taken effect in Massachusetts, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, but local proponents say that Pittsburgh's law would be the strongest in the nation if the bill passes Council.

Employers could only consider felony and misdemeanor offenses directly related to the job when turning down an employee. Crimes more than seven years old could not be considered, nor could offenses that were expunged by court order.

The changes would apply to all private and public employers with five or more employees, excluding the city's Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services bureaus. State and federal laws would pre-empt the measure, as well as collective bargaining agreements. Any company to break the law would be subject to a fine of $500 to $2,000.