In keeping with the “ban the box” legislative trend, the Columbia City Council unanimously passed a “ban the box” ordinance on December 1, 2014. The ordinance, which went into effect immediately, prohibits public and private employers operating in the City of Columbia from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history in any way prior to making a conditional offer of employment. The ordinance also prohibits employers from performing their own research, such as online research, etc., regarding an applicant’s criminal history prior to that advanced stage. 

The ordinance includes an exemption for employers that are required to exclude from employment individuals with certain types of convictions due to local, state, or federal laws or regulations, and permits an employer to notify an applicant in advance of the specific offenses that would disqualify him or her from being eligible for a particular position. The ordinance also encourages employers not to automatically ban applicants with criminal histories, but rather to make final decisions based on all of the information available to them, including consideration of the frequency, recentness, and severity of the criminal record, as well as rehabilitation efforts, and comparing those with the duties and responsibilities of the position.

The City of Columbia’s Human Rights Commission will investigate and enforce the ordinance and a complaint may be made by applicants and even non-applicants who see the prohibited job application language being used. A violation of this ordinance may result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 30 days. 

The “ban the box” trend has picked up steam over the last couple of years. Currently, there are 13 states that ban inquiries into prior criminal convictions and many more counties and municipalities that prohibit such inquiries. This trend is likely to continue with a patchwork of counties and municipalities enacting ordinances in the absence of state or federal legislation.

Employers hiring for jobs in Columbia, Missouri must immediately revise their applications for employment that inquire about prior criminal history to remove those inquires. Employers must also cease any practices of researching criminal history prior to making a conditional offer of employment or asking about such history during job interviews.