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Why 'ban-the-box' is good for business [Letter]

3:45 PM EDT, March 24, 2014

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Contrary to Sun columnist Dan Rodricks' view, the "ban-the-box" bill currently working its way through the Baltimore City Council is not just "feel good" legislation ("'Ban the box' feels good but won't achieve much," March 22).

Ban the box is a sensible and proven person-first approach to hiring that allows those at both ends of the hiring transaction to interact. Having a process or blanket policy that immediately disqualifies people with a criminal record is illegal. I find it troubling and hypocritical that businesses will not only break the law to avoid hiring someone else who broke the law, but that they will defend their right to do so as they oppose this legislation.

It is illegal to have a blanket policy that discriminates against people with a criminal record. Instead, employers are encouraged to make decisions based on the specific details of the person they are considering hiring that relate to the job. Ban the box facilitates this process by asking business to meet the person and scrutinize their qualifications before running a background check.

That's really all that this legislation proposes. Employers can still check a job-seeker's background, they just have to interview the person before they do. If they fear a background check would cause them not to hire someone they could wait until a check is completed before starting that person on the job.

Background checks take less than three business days to complete. The idea that background check results wouldn't come in until several months after an employee was hired is outdated, and the number of people who have lost their jobs that way has been grossly overstated. The reality is that thousands of job seekers never get past the application stage because their application is summarily dismissed because the box was checked.

I work for a nonprofit agency that connects job seekers with private business and I have succeeded in persuading employers to take a person-first approach to hiring. All my employer partners express gratitude for having been able to connect with valuable employees whom they might otherwise have ignored. They have not done me or the people they hired a favor. What they have done is improved their team as a result of focusing first on the human.

John Mello

The writer is projects director at the Baltimore Center for Green Careers.

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