NYC ‘Fair Chance’ hiring law takes effect

New Yorkers with conviction histories and their advocates rallied in Brooklyn Tuesday morning to celebrate the Fair Chance Act, a new law that went into effect that day.

The law will help ensure that people with criminal records have a fair chance at employment and are not unlawfully shut out of the job market.

The new law requires employers in New York City to look at job applicants’ qualifications first, and to hold off on background checks and criminal history questions until they’ve found the person they want to hire.

Under the Fair Chance Act, it is illegal to ask about criminal history on job applications and during initial job interviews.

Only after a job offer is made may employers ask about criminal convictions and—with the applicant’s permission—run a background check.

After reviewing the applicant’s conviction history, employers may withdraw the job offer only if the candidate’s criminal record is directly related to the job or if hiring the individual would pose an unreasonable risk.

“I am proud New York City has joined the ranks of more than 100 cities across the country to give all job applicants a fair chance at employment,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), deputy leader and co-lead sponsor of the Fair Chance Act.

“Not only does employment strengthen communities and lower recidivism, but employers will have access to a broader range of qualified candidates to consider,” added the representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.

“This is the strongest ban the box law in the nation, and will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs they qualify for,” Williams continued.

Leaders of the Fair Chance NYC coalition gathered with elected officials in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Tuesday to celebrate the new law.

The coalition of more than 25 community, labor, and faith organizations includes VOCAL-NY, the National Employment Law Project, the Community Service Society, 32BJ SEIU, and Faith in New York, among others.

The Fair Chance Act was introduced by Williams, Corey Johnson, and Ritchie Torres, at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. It was passed by the City Council in June.

“We call this law the Fair Chance Act because that’s what it will give everyone,” said Brewer, co-lead sponsor of the Fair Chance Act. “We will no longer let the mere fact that a person was arrested become a black mark that closes every door.

“We’re all better off when every New Yorker is free to build a better future,” Brower added. “I’m proud to have sponsored this bill in partnership with Council Member Williams, and am thrilled to see it finally enacted.”

Johnson said the Fair Chance Act will give all qualified applicants a fair chance to compete for jobs by deferring questions about criminal history until after a conditional job offer.

He said more than five million New Yorkers with records will benefit from “the chance to demonstrate their qualifications, and employers will be presented with a broader range of candidates from which to choose.

“Many employers report that it is people with criminal records who often work harder, are more willing to stay at a job for a longer period of time, and develop into valuable leaders,” Johnson said.

For Torres, all job applicants with the right qualifications and desire to work should be able to compete fairly for jobs and be considered for their skills, not past mistakes.

“The Fair Chance Act ensures that employers are giving all applicants the same level playing field, and I applaud the City Council for passing this important legislation,” he said.

The new law applies to all employers with four or more employees in New York City.

It, however, does not apply to some jobs, such as police and peace officers and any job where an existing local, state, or federal law says that people with certain convictions are prohibited from consideration.

The Fair Chance Act extends the reach of New York City’s existing fair-chance policy to the private sector. City government agencies have been operating under a fair-chance hiring policy since 2011, thanks to Executive Order 151, signed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It also includes important new facets that make it one of the strongest “ban the box” laws in the country.

Momentum for “ban the box” policies—so called because they prohibit the criminal conviction check-box on job applications—is growing nationwide, as access to employment is increasingly understood as crucial to reducing recidivism and reforming the criminal justice system.

Currently, 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties, including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Buffalo, Rochester, and Washington D.C., have adopted “ban the box.”

Major national employers, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Starbucks, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Koch Industries, have all voluntarily adopted corporate ban-the-box policies.

The Obama administration is also considering a federal policy for agencies and contractors, and legislation is pending in Congress.

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