Do you have a criminal record? That can be a daunting question for a job seeker. Some Albany County legislators are taking steps to eliminate that query from county job application forms.
Discriminating against an individual because of a criminal history is illegal, but it remains a stigma when an employer is considering making a hire. "The Center For Law and Justice did a survey several years ago, asked employers whether they would consider someone with a conviction record for employment, and 70 percent of them said 'no.' What we really have to do is find some way of allowing people with conviction records to be considered for jobs on the same basis as other people." Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice Alice Green says "The Albany County Fair Chance Act" is a beginning step. According to the National Employment Law Project, there are an estimated 70 million U.S. adults with arrests or convictions, many of whom are turned away from jobs despite their skills and qualifications.
County Legislator Samuel Fein of the sixth district introduced Local Law N for 2016. "Because it's a national issue. Municipalities in states throughout the country are passing similar legislation. And it's also something that, speaking with the resident of my district, people often bring up the struggles that people with criminal histories face in finding employment, so I thought that this would be a really good piece of legislation that would help people in my district and throughout the county create more opportunities."
Similar legislation has been passed in Buffalo and Rochester. Green says this particular law would encourage more people to apply for jobs with Albany County. "What it would do, it would prohibit the employer, the prospective employer, from discriminating against someone who is seeking employment. They would not be allowed to ask the question, 'have you ever been arrested,' which is already part of law, but also ask whether someone has a criminal conviction. It would give an applicant at least the opportunity to be heard by the prospective employers. There are already laws on the books now on state level that would protect people who are seeking employment, to an extent. What this does is prohibit the employer from asking that question before the person is given an interview."
Third district County Legislator Wanda Willingham believes it's important people who have had scrapes with the law be given another chance after paying their debt to society. "It is high time for us to begin to look at getting rid of barriers, not only to employment, but to allowing people to put life back into their families."
Fein points out that the law isn't necessarily a “green light” to hire someone: "I think a good example is someone who is charged with embezzlement and trying to work in the county payroll office. I think that would be a legitimate reason not to hire them. Then the county could withdraw the offer of employment, although that person would have the opportunity to appeal."
Willingham thinks Local Law N will be passed. "I think we have a very good chance, our majority and minority caucus, we're all aligned together on this and this will be one of our first forays into exercising what we feel we provide in a caucus and our strength as a caucus too."
Frank Mauriello, leader of the legislature's Republican minority, did not return a call for comment. He told the Times Union he was not aware of the legislation.
According to NELP, 24 states and more than 100 cities and counties have adopted so-called "ban the box" policies. Target, Walmart and Starbucks head a list of national employers that have removed the question about convictions from their initial job applications.