Across the country, municipalities and states are enacting legislation called “ban the box” which generally prohibits employers from asking job candidates about their criminal histories on applications. The legislation also makes it unlawful for a covered employer to take any adverse action against an individual on the basis of an arrest or criminal accusation that did not result in a conviction. The states of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Mexico have enacted some form of the legislation along with more than 26 cities and counties in Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington. (A complete list of municipalities that have “banned the box” is posted at

However, except for Hawaii and Massachusetts, the legislation has been limited to public employers, or public employers and vendors and contractors serving public entities. The city of Philadelphia, which is the most recent addition to this growing list, is the first municipality to pass a law that covers private employers with 10 or more employees. Below are some jurisdictional highlights of the enacted legislation:

  • Hawaii and Massachusetts private and public employers cannot consider felony convictions that are more than 10 years old. And in Massachusetts, employers are not permitted to consider misdemeanor convictions that are more than five years old.
  • Hawaii and the cities of Chicago, Hartford, and Cincinnati allow an employer to ask about an applicant’s criminal record only after a conditional offer of employment has been extended.
  • Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston require a public employer denying employment on the basis of a conviction to justify its decision based on EEOC’s guidelines which include the nature and gravity of the crime, the time that has passed since the conviction, and the relativity of the crime to the position.

Proponents of “ban the box” are confident that the legislation will be a significant factor in lowering recidivism rates, as it will allow applicants to demonstrate their skills and qualifications prior to disclosing criminal histories. And many experts say that such laws will expand beyond the borders of the United States in the very near future.