Washington residents, outside of Seattle, with criminal records and who are contemplating where to apply for a job may want to think about Target. Target made news this week when it announced that it was dropping the question about criminal history from its applications nationwide. Starting January 1st, anyone applying to work at Target will have the opportunity to have their applications evaluated on a level footing with everyone else, even if they have a criminal past. This does not mean that Target will not be making criminal history inquiries of its potential employees or that there will not be drug screenings, which Target does with all of its employees. It does mean that employees will have the chance to make it passed the initial screening without the stigma and bias that a criminal record brings to just about every job interview. Employers will first determine if an applicant appears qualified based on the application. They will then take further steps to evaluate the potential employees once the intial screening is completed.
Reason for the change
Taking criminal history out of the first steps of employment applications addresses a growing problem in the country. Many individuals, young and old, have some sort of criminal history. The problem is that criminal history can cover everything from a prior marijuana possession offense to burglary and assault. Employers, whether consciously or unconsciously, tend to disregard applicants who have to check the box indicating criminal history. Target is one of many big name employers listening to the growing support nationwide for the “Ban the Box” campaign. The campaign is attempting to get legislation in each state that would prohibit criminal history questions at the initial phase of most employment applications.
We have discussed the new Seattle criminal background check ordinance in previous posts. Washington does not have a statewide provision, but in Seattle the new ordinance goes into effect on November 1st. Its provisions are very similar to the approach that Target is adopting with regards to its application process. Employers have to wait until after the initial screening process where employers determine if the applicants meet the minimum qualifications for the given position. It is only during the interview process that criminal history may be broached and the applicants must be given an opportunity to explain and respond to employer concerns. Additionally, employers must take a “totality of the circumstances” approach to the applicant’s record. That means that the theft charge from putting a sandwich in your pocket because you could not carry all of your purchases and then you forget to pay for the sandwich would have significantly less weight in the employment decision than say a theft where you placed an iPad under your shirt and you intentionally tried to walk out of the store without paying for it. So long as the applicant does not lie about the criminal history, an action that removes the protections of this ordinance, this new law is good for those with an arrest or conviction on their record.
If you have employment questions or feel your employment rights have been violated, an employment attorney can help.