"Have you been convicted of a crime" question removed from job applications

Thousands of local businesses will have to change the way they hire people, because of a new law that city council passed. Some city council members said they want employers to actually see the person, not just the paper.

John Erwin has been a small business owner in Austin for more than 15 years. He runs the B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub. “It's going to be a little more inconvenient for the employer, you're going to spend some time up front getting to know the employee a little more, and it may not pan out. Like most small businesses, we have the box to check if you've ever been convicted of a crime, and goes without saying you view those applications a little bit differently.

But it will no longer be his call at the beginning of the application process. Thursday, city council passed a new law called the “Fair Chance Hiring” for Austin Businesses. District Four Council Member Greg Casar drafted the new ordinance, which will require businesses to remove the “Convicted of a Crime” question or box. He said Austin is the first city in the Southern United States to have these kinds of rules. “People get exactly what it's called, a more fair chance, a shot at somebody getting to know them without the stigma of a criminal record,” he said.

Council Member Casar said jobs requiring a background check by law will be exempt, such as daycare workers or police officers. But any other business in the city with 15 employees or more will have to abide by the new rules. “We want to move those sorts of questions to the end of the process so that people are judged on their potential rather than just their past,” Casar said.

Small business owner John Erwin said eventually he needs to know an applicant's history.  “To ensure the safety of our staff and our patrons, we'll ask the question, but the person will get a face to face before we ask the question.” But he supports the new changes and has already updated his online application. “I think it has a long term benefit that you may give a second look at an employee that you may not have given a second look to before you knew.”

The city doesn’t plan to enforce this new law for the first year as they plan to run an education campaign. After that, for the 1st offense, business owners will be given a warning. For the 2nd offense, fines will apply. It will be up to applicants to report any violations. Casar said 6,000 to 7,000 Austin businesses will be affected by this new law.

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