Bill would prohibit asking most job applicants about criminal history

Bill would prohibit asking most job applicants about criminal history

CITY HALL – John Collins-Muhammad thinks it’s time to make it easier for people who have run afoul of the law to find work. The 21st Ward alderman is promoting a bill he has introduced that would prohibit employers from asking most job applicants whether they have a criminal history, at least until the last stages of the hiring process.

Members of the Board of Aldermen’s Legislation Committee agreed. At the end of a hearing on Monday, they voted to send the bill back to the full Board of Aldermen with a “do pass” recommendation. 

“At least it gets someone in to get an interview,” 23rd Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said. At that point, an applicant with a criminal history can explain what happened, he said. 

“It doesn’t say you’ve got to hire somebody,” Vaccaro said. “It says you’ve got to give them the opportunity.”

A total of 150 cities or counties, along with nine states, have enacted similar laws, Muhammad said. 

The bill would prevent employers in St. Louis from basing initial decisions on hiring or promoting based on the applicant’s criminal history unless they can show how it’s relevant to the hiring decision. Employers couldn’t ask about the applicant’s criminal history until he or she is in a final pool for the position and everyone in that pool is asked.

Those requirements wouldn’t apply when laws or regulations prohibit people with a criminal history from holding certain jobs. 

The bill would give the office of the license collector the authority to enforce the requirements. The office could issue warnings and orders to comply. On the second or third violations, that office could impose civil violations, with penalties that could include the revocation of a business license.

Seventeenth Ward Alderman Joseph Roddy said he had a concern about the professions that don’t allow people with a criminal record to work. That would include Wells Fargo, practically every bank in the city, those in real estate and virtually everyone who gets a professional license. 

“In some cases, you’re legally prohibited from working in industries if you have a felony,” Roddy said. “In other cases, you’re required by professional cases to disclose.”

Roddy asked whether Muhammad had vetted the idea through an organization such as the St. Louis Development Corporation.

Roddy said he didn’t have a well-formulated opinion on the issue and voted “present.” The six other committee members at the meeting voted yes.

Muhammad said he understood Roddy’s concerns. He said his bill would apply essentially during the initial application process. He noted that civil rights legislation says states should adopt meaningful reforms in the hiring process.

Twenty-Second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said that people who had committed felonies couldn’t get certain licenses that prohibit criminal activity. A person who doesn’t have a license like that shouldn’t get an interview anyway.

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