How Do “Ban the Box” Laws Affect Higher Education?

‘There’s some additional work we have to do right now, but in the long run, it’ll probably even itself out’

“Ban the box” laws seek to provide individuals who have a criminal record with a fair chance at employment by requiring employers to make a conditional job offer before inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history. At least 28 states and 150 cities and counties have adopted the regulations recently.

How are these laws affecting higher education institutions?

“It can create an additional burden,” said NeeCee Cornish, Director of Enterprise Database & Integrations at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. “We have to make sure we follow the guidelines that the law says we have to follow. We can’t make a mistake and make an offer and forget to say, ‘this is contingent upon a background check.’ And obviously, we have to modify the application.”

Western University of Health Sciences is currently working to comply with California’s recently implemented version of this widespread and growing legislative effort.

“All of our applications have that criminal history question on them, so we basically have to redo them and take that question out,” NeeCee explained. “And we have to find a way to ask that question at a later time in the process.”

While NeeCee acknowledges the administrative burden of compliance, she remains optimistic about the intent and outcome of the law.
“There’s some additional work we have to do right now, but in the long run, it’ll probably even itself out,” she said.

When asked how higher education talent management teams can best ensure compliance with “ban the box” laws, NeeCee offered a simple solution: training.

“They have to have training programs because us Regular Joes, we don’t know what’s ok to ask and what might be a violation,” she said.

“We can’t necessarily interpret law the way that an expert can. As long as they have those training programs for hiring managers, everything should be fine.”

NeeCee also recommends understanding and communicating the benefits of the regulations, such as how it opens up the possibility of making a better hire.

“Our main purpose is education, so we have to look for the best talent for our institution,” she said. “The most talented person for a position may have a criminal record, but if it’s not going to impact what we hire that person to do—and they’ve paid the price—then a previous mistake shouldn’t matter, as long as they’re doing a good job and they subscribe to our mission.”

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