Obama Bans the Box on Federal Job Applications

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 5, 2015

President Obama has ordered all federal government agencies to stop asking prospective employees on job applications if they have a criminal record. Obama's "ban the box" announcement involves the box on initial applications that candidates are often asked to check off if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

In his order, the president directed the federal Office of Personnel Management to delay any criminal history questions until later in the hiring process so qualified, rehabilitated candidates are not automatically disqualified before the interview stage.

Exceptions will be made for jobs in law enforcement, national security and other sensitive positions. The order also does not apply to federal contractors, although the president has urged Congress to pass a "ban the box" law covering contractors.

In all, 19 states plus the District of Columbia have removed criminal history questions from their job applications in recent years. More than 100 cities and counties have also done so. However, only seven states have passed ban the box laws that apply to the private employment sector, including:

  • Hawaii;
  • Illinois;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Minnesota;
  • New Jersey;
  • Oregon; and
  • Rhode Island.

The idea behind "ban the box" laws has been to give qualified, rehabilitated candidates a legitimate chance to be considered for positions.

While employers should not expect to see Congress pass a federal "ban the box" law affecting private employers in the near future, this executive action should embolden "ban the box" movements in a number of states where legislation is pending.

A number of large employers, including Target, Home Depot and Koch Industries, have already eliminated criminal history questions from their job applications.