During its Monday meeting, the Westchester County Board of Legislators passed the Fair Chance to Work legislation by a vote of 11 to 5.
The measure, which was created to ensure that people with criminal records in their past have an opportunity to explain their circumstances when they’re looking for work, eliminates questions about a job applicant’s criminal record on initial job applications. However, according to proponents of the the new law, it does allow for such questions to be asked during interviews. It also allows for background checks after initial application.
The measure, sometimes referred to as “eliminate the box,” referring to a box that must be checked on a job application related to criminal convictions, will give qualified people a foot in the door when they’re applying for work, even if they may have been convicted for a minor offense, or are working to rehabilitate themselves after a criminal conviction.
Board Vice Chair Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), one of the measures co-sponsors, said in a statement: “The point of this legislation is to give job seekers a chance to establish a dialogue with prospective employers, not to have any dialogue cut off before it can begin. I am proud that this will be the law in Westchester County. This will make a positive impact on people’s lives, help people make a new start, encourage employment, give employers a wider pool of motivated, qualified workers, and increase the tax rolls simultaneously.”
Legislator Christopher A. Johnson (D-Yonkers), another co-sponsor, said, “This is not just an economic justice issue, this is a social justice issue, since a disproportionate number of people of color get caught in the criminal justice system. If any of us was judged by the worst mistake we ever made, none of us would have a job. Our legislation makes sure that job seekers will be considered for an interview not on the basis of those mistakes, but on the basis of their qualifications.”
BOL Minority Leader John Testa (R-Peekskill), a strong opponent of the legislation, released a statement after Monday’s vote.
“The Democrat Legislators proposal to prohibit businesses in Westchester County from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a serious crime is an outrageous overreach into private business and a continuation of their assault on the small business community. I disagreed with County Executive Latimer when he ordered that the county will not ask about job applicants’ criminal history but I accept that it is his prerogative as the executive branch of our government to set those policies for county employment. But to legislate that private businesses can no longer establish their own standards for what type of character and integrity they require in an employee- using past criminal activity as a guide- is a disturbing level of government interference in private business,” Testa said.
According to the BOL, “Ban the Box” provisions, have been passed across the country including in Kansas, Wisconsin, Connecticut and New York City, and companies like PepsiCo, Microsoft, Home Depot, Target, Starbucks, Walmart and CVS have eliminated these questions from job applications.
School districts, employers of police officers, and other employers who are barred by law from hiring applicants with specific criminal convictions, would not be subject to the new measure, which now goes to County Executive George Latimer for his signature.