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Listen: Clearing Up the Confusion About Banning the Box

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Kathryn Decker from flickr
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Sometimes, a potential law goes by two names.

But other times, it goes by one – while confusion has bred alternative monikers. For instance, Austin City Council members have spent the past year chewing over hiring requirements for private employers. But recently, Council Member Ellen Troxclair expressed some confusion about what to call this: "ban the box" or a "fair chance hiring" ordinance?

Troxclair talked over potential mandates with business owners who shared in her confusion: “They thought we were just considering ban the box, which is honestly kind of what I thought we were talking about early spring last year when we first considered it,” she said from the dais last week.

What is ‘ban the box?’

“Ban the box” is a movement to remove the check-box declaring a criminal history from employment applications. According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 100 cities and counties have started to require this of local employers.

Here’s Holly Kirby with non-profit Grassroots Leadership defining ‘ban the box,’ plus why her organization supports the city of Austin passing a more comprehensive ordinance:

What is a Fair Chance Hiring ordinance, and how is it related to ‘ban the box?’

A fair chance hiring law can be molded to a specific city’s needs, and adopting one does not mean a municipality is adopting specific requirements. In the case of Austin, banning the box is just one facet of the fair chance hiring ordinance Council members are considering. Listen to Council member Greg Casar explain this nuance, and then read the entire proposed ordinance here.

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Which one will Council vote on?

Council members will be voting on a fair chance hiring ordinance that includes banning the box – most likely at their meeting on March 24. The law would apply to private companies employing 15 or more people and set out a civil penalty of up to $100 per job for employers (although the city has proposed a phase-in of this penalty, so that employers have a chance to be educated about the new law).

In October, the council’s Economic Opportunity Committee voted 3-0 in support of banning the box, but as Casar explains, the vote was symbolic.

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Sounds great. What, if any, are some concerns?

One part of the drafted ordinance would make it unlawful for an employer to run a background check any time before extending a job offer to a finalist. That job offer could be conditional though – depending on what the employer finds after probing the candidate’s criminal history.

Austin Chamber of Commerce Vice President Drew Scheberle said the chamber board’s biggest concern is this portion of the proposed ordinance:

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  This story was produced as part of KUT's reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.