Oregon, NYC Criminal History Laws Would Affect Most Employers

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 24, 2015

Oregon appears set to become the 18th state with a "ban the box" law, assuming Governor Kate Brown signs HB 3025 as expected. The "ban the box" phrase refers to eliminating the criminal history box on job applications that prospective employees are often asked to check off if they have ever been convicted of a crime.

Effective January 1, 2016, the Oregon bill would prohibit most private employers in the state from asking criminal history questions on initial job applications. And if no interview is conducted, the measure bars employers from requiring an applicant to disclose a criminal conviction before a conditional job offer has been made.

Exemptions will be provided in the following situations:

  • Federal, state or local law requires the consideration of an applicant's criminal history;
  • The employer is a law enforcement agency or in the criminal justice system;
  • The employer is seeking a nonemployee volunteer.

The law does not specify which businesses are covered, so Oregon employers should assume it includes them unless one of the above exemptions applies. If Governor Brown signs the bill, Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries may enforce fines of up to $1,000 per violation. However, the measure will not permit individuals to file lawsuits.

Ban the Box in the Big Apple

On June 10, the New York City Council passed a "ban the box" law that goes even further and restricts an employer's ability to ask about an applicant's criminal history throughout the hiring process.

The Fair Chance Act (FCA) bans:

  • All criminal history inquiries until an employer has extended a conditional job offer;
  • Inquiries into an applicant's pending arrest or conviction record; and
  • Searches of public records and consumer reports containing criminal background information until an employment offer has been made.

Employers that violate the law could be subject to punitive damages.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for this legislation and is expected to sign this "ban the box" law soon. It comes not long after New York City passed a law prohibiting most employers from conducting credit checks of job applicants.