On Thursday, February 4, Birmingham Mayor William Bell signed an Executive Order prohibiting the City of Birmingham from using a criminal conviction as an automatic ban from being hired by the City.  The Executive Order states, in part:

ORDERED:  That the Director of the Human Resources Department and all other Departments and Divisions of the City pursuant to her directions, shall implement hiring policies and procedures intended to encourage the full participation of motivated and qualified persons with criminal histories in the workforce, reduce recidivism, and assure public safety.  The “Ban the Box” policy should establish practices that:

  1. Prohibit the use of a criminal record as an automatic bar to employment;
  2. Prevent the use of an application form that inappropriately excludes and discriminates against qualified job applicants;
  3. Promote the accurate use and interpretation of a criminal record;
  4. Provide qualified applicants with the opportunity to discuss any inaccuracies, contest the content and relevance of a criminal record, and provide information that demonstrates rehabilitation;
  5. Request that the Director of the Personnel Board, where ever possible consistent with this order, not to automatically disqualify a potential applicant for employment with the City of Birmingham due to a conviction of a felony under state or federal law-including removing all questions related to all criminal history from the initial stage of the application process.
  6. Shall not affect applications for sensitive governmental positions in which a criminal history would be an immediate disqualification and initial disclosure on such applications shall still be required.

Joyce Vance, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, who appeared with Mayor Bell at a press conference, stated that: "There is strong data showing that finding a job substantially reduces an ex-offender's likelihood of returning to prison. For those who believe former inmates are unsafe or unfit for the workplace, there is also ample data showing that employed ex-offenders have better retention rates, better performance metrics, and pose no greater risk within the workplace than those without a conviction history."

Brian Hilson, CEO and President of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA), recently met with Vance to discuss the “ban the box” initiative and how it may be implemented with various BBA members.

“Ban the box” generally means that the question of criminal convictions is removed from the application, although questions about criminal history may still be asked once a conditional job offer is made or once it is determined that the applicant meets the minimum qualifications of the job.  To date, 19 states and over 1,000 cities have enacted “ban the box” measures.  Although still used more frequently in the public sector, more private sector companies are beginning to adopt “ban the box” policies.

Practice pointer.  In jurisdictions where there is no law prohibiting the questioning of applicants about their criminal history, each employer must decide if they want to adopt such a policy on its own.  Factors to consider include the nature of the business, the presence of cash/valuable commodities, location, and whether there are any requirements for background checks, such as with teachers.  With the Birmingham Business Alliance being involved in meetings with Ms. Vance concerning Birmingham's “ban the box” initiative, there may be more local companies jumping on the ban(d) wagon.