Starting Aug. 1, Oakland County will no longer ask most job applicants whether they’ve ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.
In June, the county Board of Commissioners voted to remove the question from its job applications in order to ensure hiring officials consider someone’s qualifications first. Dozens of states, cities, and counties have adopted similar “ban the box” policies.
District 17 Commissioner Nancy Quarles says the new policy removes a roadblock to employment.
“Many times, when an employer sees that box checked, the applicant didn’t go any further. The application would not be reviewed or looked at.” — Oakland Co. Commissioner Nancy Quarles
Quarles says it’s a matter of fairness to people who are looking for a second chance.
“Some of those crimes may have happened 10 or 15 years ago, or while they were in their teens,” Quarles says.
The county will continue to do background checks, and the new policy does not apply to positions where information about a person’s criminal record is required by federal law, such as jobs within the sheriff’s department.
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller and read excerpts from the Q&A below, edited for length and clarity.
WDET: Why did you ban “the box”?
Commissioner Nancy Quarles: For me, it’s a fairness issue. If you have served time in jail or been incarcerated, or have a criminal arrest on your record, you have to check the box — which one applies to you. And many times, when an employer sees that box checked, the applicant didn’t go any further. The application would not be reviewed or looked at.
When you talk about fairness, people who may have a criminal record or often looking for a second chance, and getting a job would certainly help toward that, wouldn’t it?
Absolutely. It helps them become a more productive citizen. And some of those crimes may have happened 10 or 15 years ago, or while they were in their teens. But they still had to check the box, and not be able to explain it when you fill out an application. Of course, most applications today are online and there’s nowhere on the form where you can explain it.
Would the county still be able to do a background check on job applicants?
Absolutely. If an applicant meets the criteria for the job, they’ll be able to interview for it. Then, prior to a job offer, they will have a background check at that time. By then, there’s a rapport built up between the employer and the applicant. That would give the applicant a chance to explain anything that turns up on a background check such as a prior arrest or conviction. There are certain jobs that require federally-mandated background checks. In those cases, “ban the box” will not apply.
Are you talking about someone who might apply for a job in finance or accounting who might have a record for embezzlement, or something like that?
Mainly in Oakland County, it’s those who are applying for jobs in the sheriff’s department, a background check has to be done early in the process.
Could someone still be denied a job because of a criminal record?
They still could be.
When does this go into effect?
August 1, 2019. Our human resources department is working on the process that they’re going to use in removing the box.