On May 15, 2014, Baltimore enacted the Fair Criminal-Record Screening Practices ordinance, which bans private employers from inquiring about or conducting a criminal background check on an applicant until a conditional offer has been extended. This law, which is a growing trend at state and local levels across the country, is generally called “ban-the-box.” Specifically, the Baltimore law requires private employers with 10 or more full-time workers to remove from job applications a box that ex-criminals must check stating they have a criminal record. Positions for which a criminal history would bar a candidate are exempt.
Baltimore’s ban-the-box law does not require employers to provide any notices in addition to those required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act when an employer obtains criminal history information from a background check vendor. Also, the law does not impose any additional restrictions on the criminal history that an employer can consider when making an employment decision.
A ban-the-box violation in Baltimore is a misdemeanor with potential penalties of a $500 fine and 90 days of imprisonment. In addition, the Baltimore Community Relations Commission may award a complainant back pay, reinstatement, attorneys' fees, and compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress and expenses incurred in seeking other employment.
A Trend for Private Employers
Since late 2010, six cities (Baltimore, MD, Buffalo, N.Y., Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, PA, Seattle, WA, and San Francisco, CA) and four states (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island) have enacted ban-the-box legislation, and similar bills are pending across the country. Many more jurisdictions restrict public employers from considering criminal history, but the law is trending to private employers.
What Employers Should Do
There are still many questions surrounding the application and administration of these new and proposed ban-the-box laws, but here are immediate recommendations for employers: