How ex-convicts should approach a job interview
For the best chance of getting hired, former inmates should apologize for their criminal past to potential employers, indicates new research that comes amid the nationwide “ban-the-box” movement
The Iowa Supreme Court upheld a provision of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance that bans employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications.
In an order released Friday morning, the court ruled in favor of a section of the ordinance that says businesses with more than 15 employees cannot ask applicants about their criminal histories until they extend conditional job offers.
However, the court invalidated another portion of the ordinance that bans those businesses from making hiring decisions solely because of applicants’ criminal records.
In the order, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote that preventing upfront questions about criminal histories does not conflict with a state law that bans cities from putting restrictions on business’ hiring decisions.
“To the extent that [the ‘ban the box’ ordinance] merely delays an inquiry into criminal history, it is not prescribing different terms or conditions of employment,” he wrote.
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The ordinance, approved by the City Council November 2019, is the first of its kind in Iowa. Elected officials said the law helps residents with criminal records because prospective bosses are more likely to interview them if they don’t know about their criminal background.
Proponents of such laws also contend that filtering applicants based on whether they have arrest records is more likely to preclude Black candidates from consideration, pointing to a 2020 analysis by ABC News of FBI data collected from police agencies around the country. It found that Back people were arrested at a rate five times higher than white people from 2015 to 2018.
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry sued the city in January 2020, arguing that the ordinance is illegal under a state law that blocks cities and counties from creating rules for hiring practices. Senior Judge John Bauercamper ruled against the business lobbying group in Black Hawk County District Court, writing that the state’s law did not apply because it did not specifically mention an ordinance like Waterloo’s.
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The group appealed to the state Supreme Court. An attorney for the city of Waterloo said during oral arguments in the case in April that the ordinance protects Black residents from employment discrimination.
Waterloo is more diverse than most of Iowa. About 17% of the city’s residents are Black, compared to 4% of the state overall.
In November 2018, the financial news website 24/7 Wall Street ranked Waterloo as the worst city for Black people to live in. The journalists based the ranking on the gaps in income, unemployment and homeownership between Waterloo’s white and Black residents.
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett.
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