On July 26, 2012, Representative Hansen Clarke from Michigan introduced a bill into the House of Representatives (H.R. 6220) that would prohibit most employers from discriminating against applicants with criminal records. Specifically, this bill, titled “Ban the Box Act,” would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to seek information about whether applicant has ever been convicted of a criminal offense.

The bill lists two exceptions that allow employers to ask about an applicant’s criminal background. Employers would be allowed to ask about an applicant’s criminal background after a conditional offer of employment has been made, or if the job involves an “unreasonable risk to the safety of specific individuals or to the general public.”

If passed into law, employees covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will have the same powers, procedures, and remedies available to them for violations of this bill.

H.R. 6220 is a reflection of other similar state and city laws that limit employers’ ability to inquire about an applicant’s criminal background. In recent years, Massachusetts and the City of Philadelphia have passed similar ban the box laws.

Proponents of H.R. 6220 and the other ban the box laws argue that such legislation is needed to prevent employers from automatically disqualifying applicants because of their criminal records. These ban the box laws would give convicted criminals a better chance to obtain employment and not return to a life of crime.

As H.R. 6220 is debated in Congress, employers should be prepared to make changes in the employee selection and interview process.