Employment misclassification

August 24, 2023

Employment Discrimination

“Ban the Box” and Employment Background Checks: What Job Applicants in Minnesota Should Know

Starting January 1, 2014, Minnesota’s “Ban the Box” law, Minn. Stat. § 364.021, brought a significant shift in employment practices concerning job applicants with criminal backgrounds. This legislative measure aimed to level the playing field by prohibiting employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history in the initial stages of the application process. Its enactment was rooted in the belief that everyone deserves a fair chance at employment, free from the immediate bias that a checked box might bring. The law reflects a broader movement towards more inclusive hiring practices, emphasizing the individual’s qualifications over their past mistakes.

In the decade following its implementation, the relatively low number of reported lawsuits filed under this statute — only three — merits attention. Each of these cases was initiated pro se, meaning the plaintiffs represented themselves without the assistance of legal counsel. Notably, the outcome of these cases was in favor of the employers, with none of the plaintiffs succeeding in their legal challenges. This outcome prompts several critical takeaways for both job applicants and employers.

Firstly, the scarcity of litigation under “Ban the Box” could suggest a lack of awareness or understanding among potential plaintiffs regarding their rights under the law or the complexities of navigating the legal system pro se. This highlights the necessity for increased educational efforts to ensure that individuals with criminal histories are fully informed about how to assert their rights effectively.

Secondly, the outcomes of these cases may indicate that employers are generally compliant with the law’s requirements, or perhaps that the law’s enforcement mechanisms are not robust enough to deter or penalize non-compliance effectively. It raises questions about the law’s practical efficacy in achieving its intended goals and whether additional measures or revisions are needed to strengthen its impact.

Lastly, the fact that all cases were filed by individuals without legal representation points to a broader issue of accessibility to legal resources. It underscores the challenges that many people, particularly those with criminal backgrounds, face in seeking justice. This situation suggests a pressing need for more supportive services to empower individuals to protect their employment rights effectively.

Understanding the Basics of “Ban the Box”

“Ban the Box” is about making hiring fairer. It’s about removing the checkbox on job applications that asks about your criminal history. This change is designed to give you a fair shot at getting an interview, regardless of your past.

What You Need to Know about “Ban the Box”

Under this law, employers can’t ask you about your criminal history on the initial job application. They can only ask about it after they’ve chosen you for an interview. If there’s no interview, they can ask after they’ve given you a conditional offer of employment.

However, employers are allowed to let you know if certain criminal history backgrounds might not be suitable for specific positions based on the law or company policies.

Does “Ban the Box” Apply to All Employers?

Yes, it does. This law isn’t just for public employers. It applies to private employers as well. So, whether you’re applying to a government agency or a private company, the rules are the same. But there are some exceptions, including for the Department of Corrections or to employers who have a statutory duty to conduct a criminal history background check or otherwise take into consideration a potential employee’s criminal history during the hiring process.

Navigating Your Rights for Employment Background Checks

This law does have some exceptions. If an employer is required by law to conduct criminal history background checks or consider criminal history during hiring, they can still do so. But they have to follow the rules – they can only ask about it after the interview or conditional offer.

The Consequences of Not Following the Law

Employers who don’t follow the “Ban the Box” law could face fines. The fines can range from $500.00 to $2,000.00, depending on the size of the employer.

Your Role in Ensuring Fair Practices

While employers need to adapt their hiring practices, you should also stay informed about your rights. Be aware of these changes and how they affect you as a job applicant. This way, you can confidently navigate the hiring process.

Resources for You

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) has put together a toolkit to help you understand and navigate this new law. You can find an informative video, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page, and a historical overview of how criminal background checks have been used in Minnesota’s employment.