Should We Ban the Box?

Date: July 18, 2017

I can see you scratching your head.  What the heck is “Ban the Box?”

“Ban the Box” is one of those national movements activists have been peddling for several years now.  This issue with the catchy name is gaining traction in some circles throughout the country.  “Ban the Box” refers to the box on the first page of a job application, you know, the question that asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”  If the answer is “yes,” there is a space where the applicant can explain the offense and why he or she should be considered for the position.  The activists that are pushing this effort to “Ban the Box” want to prevent employers from having the “Box” on the application.  The idea is that the applicant with such a history doesn’t really have a chance and will be tossed in “File 13” and never have an opportunity to interview.

Did you know that Indiana’s Governor, Eric Holcomb, has recently banned the box for those applying for positions in state government?

It may be easy for a large operation like state government to take that important question off the application because they have an enormous HR department and attorneys on staff.  The question will be asked and a thorough background check will be completed. But what about the small mom and pop shop?  Without specialists in HR, they may wide open for lawsuits should anything bad happen.

I am not heartless. I have sympathy for those who have committed a crime, have served their sentence and need a job.  We know that ex-offenders who are unable to find work are more likely to return to crime than those who do have a job.  However, employers, particularly small employers, should have the right to ask this question of folks applying for a position.  Big Business and Big government may have the resources to handle that question later in the hiring process.  But small business owners with limited resources and limited time may never ask the question at all, potentially putting their employees, customers and the owners’ own families at risk.

Governor Holcomb can afford to “Ban the Box” for state government positions, but most small businesses cannot afford that luxury.  Private sector employers can remove the box from their applications, if they so choose.  However, employers should continue to have the right to ask about an applicant’s past.  We should look for ways to incentivize employers to hire ex-offenders, not penalize small businesses, forcing mandates like “Ban the Box.”  Senator Phil Boots authored legislation this year that will do just that.  SB312 prevents local governments from Banning the Box, and most significantly, this law has some liability protection for small businesses, should the business choose to hire an ex-offender.  

Let’s make the “Box” the beginning of a conversation, not the end.  It is up to the applicant to make the case to hire him if he or she is an ex-offender.  In a period when small businesses are having a tough time finding employees who will appreciate the opportunity, work a full day, show up on time, wear appropriate attire (not pajama pants!)…… ex-offenders may be the answer to a prayer.

Just don’t take away our right to know.


Barbara Quandt Underwood

Indiana State Director

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