A Philadelphia city ordinance took effect last week which now prohibits employers from inquiring about a job applicant’s criminal record in a job application or a first interview. A violation may result in a $2,000.00 fine. Philadelphia’s ordinance follows similar laws in a minority of states like Massachusetts and California. The law is designed to prevent employers from using a criminal record as a litmus test to eliminate applicants who answer truthfully without ever considering their skills.
Supporters of the law argue if persons with criminal records cannot find employment, they will be more likely to return to crime. Employers are allowed to inquire about a criminal record in a second interview and conduct a criminal background check upon a conditional offer of employment.
I have mixed feelings about this ordinance. While I am not aware of any formal study, in a time when jobs are few and applicants are many, it is probably not far from the truth to say that many employers will immediately reject an applicant with a criminal record. But will employers be any less likely to reject an applicant when the criminal record is divulged in a second interview? Is an employer any less likely to terminate an employee who failed to disclose a criminal record during the hiring process just because the employee has demonstrated himself or herself to be a hard worker for a period of time?
I do believe in second chances. One mistake should not become a scarlet letter precluding an individual from gainful employment. As in most hiring decisions, whether the candidate is employable depends on a variety of factors. Certainly, the seriousness of the offense must be taken into consideration as well as whether the candidate is a repeat offender. But legislation to force an employer to wait until later on in the hiring process to make these judgments strikes me as wishful thinking. An employer who will use a criminal record as a litmus test is just as likely to use it after a second interview. A law is not going to change the mentality of the decision maker and, certainly, no one is advocating that an employer should be prohibited from considering a job applicant’s criminal record altogether. (For the horror such a prohibition might produce, just imagine a convicted pedophile applying for a position working with youths.).
I suppose the Philadelphia lawmakers’ hearts are in the right place, but I am skeptical as to whether the hiring of persons with criminal records will significantly increase. Then again, with the number of former Philadelphia officials and employees behind bars or under investigation, maybe the lawmakers are more concerned about helping their friends find new employment?