News Story

Michigan U.S. Rep. Introduces Bill to Ban Criminal Background Checks

Detroit Democrat Rep. Hansen Clarke says asking is unfair to job applicants

Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit

U.S. Congressman Hansen Clarke of Detroit has introduced a “ban the box” bill that would prevent employers from asking employees about criminal convictions on job applications until they made a conditional job offer.

Applications often have a box that asks applicants if they have been convicted of a crime.

The exception to asking about a criminal conviction in H.R. 6220 is when hiring the person may "involve an unreasonable risk to the safety of specific individuals or to the general public.”

A similar law went into effect in January in Philadelphia.

Eddy McClain, past president of the National Council of Investigation and Security Services, said his organization was against the bill because it was “irresponsible” to offer someone a job without first determining if there is a criminal record.

"We believe it is not practical to be required to offer the applicant a job before even inquiring as to his or her criminal convictions," McClain said in an email. “Often there are multiple applicants who appear to be qualified for jobs and employers need to determine the nature of their criminal backgrounds, if any, before deciding which applicant will be offered the position."

McClain also questioned the validity of the exemption where criminal background checks were allowed if it involved an "unreasonable risk to the safety of specific individuals or to the general public."

"We doubt that a prospective employer would be seriously considering hiring someone whom they thought could be a safety risk," McClain said. "Therefore the exemption is meaningless. And how does one judge safety risks without knowing the background of the applicant?"

McClain and Charles Owens, Michigan director of the National Federation of Independent Business, both said HR 6220 ignores the civil liability risks for negligent hiring.

"It's not unusual for the business to be included in a lawsuit," Owens said. "We are held to a standard, yet we are prevented from finding out if these people had prior problems."

In a letter to his colleagues, Clarke wrote: "Currently, many employers reject applicants in the first round of the hiring process, based even on a nonviolent criminal record unrelated to the position."

He wrote his bill would “allow applicants to be considered based on their qualifications without jeopardizing the security needs of employers."