The Fair Chance Act

It’s illegal to be denied a job just because you have a criminal record.

A new law called the Fair Chance Act says employers cannot ask about your criminal record until after offering you a job. The new law went into effect on October 27, 2015.

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What does the Fair Chance Act do?

  • Bans job ads that say things like “no felonies” or “must pass background check”.
  • Bans any questions about criminal history on job applications.
  • Bans any questions about criminal history during job interviews.
  • An employer can check your criminal record history only after a conditional job offer. 

If you are denied a job because of your criminal record, the employer must explain why in writing. The employer must also connect your criminal record history to job duties or show it creates an unreasonable risk. The employer must also hold the job open for 3 days so you have time to discuss the issue or any wrong information.

Which jobs does the Fair Chance Act impact? All employers in New York City with four or more employers must obey the Fair Chance Act. And they have to follow it when hiring, promoting, demoting or firing people. The law does not apply to some jobs, like police and peace officers and any job where a law says that people with certain convictions cannot do that job.

Why is the Fair Chance Act needed? Although New York State law already says that employers cannot use unrelated convictions when making employment decisions, many will not even consider applicants who indicate that they have a record, without evening knowing what the conviction was for. As a result, more than five million New Yorkers who have a record lose the chance to demonstrate their qualifications. The Fair Chance Act simply removes barriers to success for people who are qualified to work: not only does employment lower recidivism, but “banning the box” means employers get a broader range of candidates to consider. This bill will ensure that all public and private employers are considering applicants based on their skills, experience, and qualifications before weighing whether their conviction history is relevant.

Do other states, cities, or employers have this policy? Yes, more than ten states and over sixty cities and counties in the U.S. have enacted fair chance policies. Four states—Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island—extend the policy to all public and private employers, and an increasing number of cities are doing the same, including Buffalo, San Francisco, and Seattle. Additionally, application forms from major employers like Target and Walmart do not ask job applicants about criminal convictions.

The NYC Fair Chance Act allows people with a conviction history be evaluated on their merits without compromising safety and security on the job. Key facts about the bill:

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs endorse the policy as a best practice.
  • Employers may still conduct criminal background checks and deny employment to workers with conviction histories that are directly related to the job or pose an unreasonable risk.
  • The Act will assist employers in complying with existing law, reducing negligence liability.
  • Employers that are required by law to conduct background checks and exclude people with specific convictions may still do so.