On June 10, the New York City Council became the latest governmental body to “ban the box” by prohibiting private employers within the city from inquiring into a job applicant’s criminal history, and instead requiring that criminal background inquiries be deferred until the time of a job offer.  In so doing, New York City joins a growing list of state and local bodies to implement such measures. 

The Fair Chance Act, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, makes it a violation of the city’s Human Rights Law for private employers to ask about a job applicant’s criminal background before giving the applicant a conditional offer of employment.  “This law will ensure that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, will have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs that they qualify for,” Williams said in a statement before the vote.  It should be noted, however, that employers that are required by law to conduct background checks and exclude people with specific convictions may still do so under the Act. 

More than 100 cities and counties and 17 states have adopted similar rules, but only Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, and cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, have passed laws that govern how non-public employers address the issue of an applicant’s criminal background. 

The New York City legislation adds to a growing patchwork of regulations surrounding employment background screenings that include a criminal history check. 

Troutman Sanders has extensive experience in counseling companies on background screening compliance, including in “ban the box” jurisdictions.