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"Ban the Box" and other stupid ideas from our overlords

There is a bill in the Georgia legislature commonly trumpeted as “ban the box” that makes it illegal for employers to ask whether or not an applicant has been convicted of a crime during the INITIAL screening process for a job. The employer is later allowed to ask this question AFTER he/she has narrowed down the pool of applicants to the most qualified bunch.

As a criminal defense attorney, I usually applaud any effort by our masters to abate the severity of the punishment that comes with being convicted of most crimes. I regularly get calls from people with convictions from 20+ years ago asking if there’s anything that can be done. Most such people have led productive and crime-free lives since their youths, but still find that their past haunts them every time they go looking for a new job.

Recently, the State of Georgia has grown (what might seem like) a conscious over this issue by passing the drug sentencing reform bill and Georgia’s revised expungement/record restriction statute. Both of these pieces of legislation are a “nice start”, but don’t go far enough. People are still caged for non-violent drug offenses and will still have their job searches impeded by ancient and irrelevant convictions.

Unlike those reforms, Georgia’s “ban the box” bill misses the mark altogether. Rather than discontinuing the practice of “branding” the convicted for life, Georgia seeks to impose penalties for employers who dare to look for the brand at the wrong time.

It is the State of Georgia that makes EVERY SINGLE ADULT ARREST, CRIMINAL COURT CASE and CONVICTION public information. Rather than amending that practice or providing an even broader expungement/record restriction statute, our wise overlords want to increase the cost of the screening process for would-be employers.

Large companies, for example, might get 10,000 applicants for 1 job. No company can interview that many people and stay lucrative. As such companies engage in a 2-pile screening process based on the answers to various questions. Answer the question correctly and your application moves on to the next step. Answer it incorrectly, and it doesn’t. Without any other changes, removing a yes/no question from the process will result in a MUCH larger stack of applicants who need to be interviewed. The company will either incur increased costs for interviewing all those applicants or will just make some (other) arbitrary (and possibly irrelevant) distinction in order to narrow down the pool of qualified applicants. In the end, any benefit to those with criminal histories will be borne by those without.

Worse yet, this new law will undoubtedly lead to MORE criminals (if there is a criminal penalty for violating the law and asking the question too soon) or civil lawsuits for those employers who violate the new edict. The end result will be increased Human Resources costs and/or a chilling effect on hiring which will trickle down to all job seekers. Large companies probably won't notice the increased HR burden, but small employers (which is to say MOST employers) will.

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