An Office of Personnel Management rule finalized in early December requires that for most federal job openings, the hiring department or agency cannot ask about applicants’ criminal or credit histories until a conditional job offer has been made.
FEDERAL REGISTER FINAL RULE, EFFECTIVE JAN 3, 2017
The purpose of the rule, which follows President Obama’s announcement on the issue, is to promote fair consideration in hiring of job candidates who possess the knowledge, skills, abilities and motivation to qualify for a position but have a criminal record or bad credit that might bias human resources or hiring managers against their applications.
The new rule parallels actions that many municipalities have taken to “ban the box” that requires applicants to disclose with a check mark any criminal record.
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The new rule aims to benefit job seekers in a number of challenging situations. A job candidate might have a criminal record on the basis of one arrest that never led to charges against him, let alone a conviction. Other candidates might have been convicted of nonviolent crimes, served their sentences with good behavior and been successfully rehabilitated. Yet another applicant might have a history of personal bankruptcy due to medical debt. The rule, now finalized, delays consideration of such background information until candidates’ relevant qualifications have been fully evaluated.
“Fair-chance hiring policies are supported by a broad bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats because they are a common-sense way to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter the workforce and contribute to our society,” said U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who has championed the new rule.
In some circumstances, federal hiring authorities can request an exception to the ban on criminal records checks in the early stages of application. The rule gives agencies and departments the right to request an exception for postings of certain jobs. This could, for example, include security jobs or positions that require considerable training and a passing grade on an exam based on that training before the candidate can be offered a job.
In any case, if a conditional job offer is made and a background check then reveals a serious problem such as a recent conviction for a violent crime, the hiring agency may be authorized to withdraw the offer.
The final rule is a modest attempt to produce better outcomes for American society given daunting statistics:
More than 2 million Americans are currently incarcerated; hundreds of thousands more file for personal bankruptcy each year.
This change in federal hiring practices will enable Americans who have overcome past troubles to apply for federal employment with the promise that their applications will be considered on their professional merits, and with the hope that they will be able to continue to redeem themselves through civil service.
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