White Plains, NY — On Monday, the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a measure to ensure that people with criminal records in their past have an opportunity to explain their circumstances when they're looking for work.

The "Fair Chance to Work" legislation, which passed by a vote of 11-5, eliminates questions about a job applicant's criminal record on initial job applications, but it does allow for such questions to be asked in interviews. It also allows for background checks after initial application.

The measure will give qualified people a foot in the door when they’re applying for work, even if they may have been convicted for a minor offense, or are working to rehabilitate themselves after a criminal conviction.  That’s because the first thing an employer will see will be the applicant’s qualifications, not a marked check box.

Board Vice Chair Alfreda Williams (D - Elmsford, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown), one of the measure's co-sponsors, said, "The point of this legislation is to give job seekers a chance to establish a dialogue with prospective employers, not to have any dialogue cut off before it can begin. I am proud that this will be the law in Westchester County.  This will make a positive impact on people's lives, help people make a new start, encourage employment, give employers a wider pool of motivated, qualified workers, and increase the tax rolls simultaneously.”

Bill co-sponsor Legislator Catherine Borgia (D - Briarcliff Manor, Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill) said, “I'm happy that Westchester County today has joined various states, cities and other municipalities in passing legislation of this sort. This legislation doesn't limit background checks by employers, but it will allow job applicants an opportunity to tell their stories when they're looking for work. Eliminating questions of criminal background on initial application is a policy that has been adopted by companies across the political spectrum."

Legislator Christopher A. Johnson (D - Yonkers), another co-sponsor, said, “This is not just an economic justice issue, this is a social justice issue, since a disproportionate number of people of color get caught in the criminal justice system.  If any of us was judged by the worst mistake we ever made, none of us would have a job. Our legislation makes sure that job seekers will be considered for an interview not on the basis of those mistakes, but on the basis of their qualifications.”

Legislator Damon Maher (D - Eastchester, New Rochelle, Tuckahoe), chair of the Board's Labor and Housing Committee, said, “This is a good step toward ensuring that those who are charting a new course in their lives have a path do to so.  Better opportunities for employment will reduce recidivism as we hopefully put the era of mass incarceration behind us.”

Employment is one of the most important factors in reducing recidivism rates, but when initial job applications include things like check-boxes disclosing past criminal records, workers often find themselves pre-emptively cut off from opportunities to rebuild their lives.

Laws like this, popularly known as "ban the box" provisions, have been passed across the country -- including in Kansas, Wisconsin, Connecticut and New York City -- and companies like Pepsico, Microsoft, Home Depot, Target, Starbucks, Walmart and CVS have eliminated these questions from job applications.

School districts, employers of police officers, and other employers who are barred by law from hiring applicants with specific criminal convictions, would not be subject to the new measure, which goes to County Executive George Latimer for his signature.

You can view the text of the legislation and the legislative history at: https://bit.ly/2Rr0Pl8