Wisconsin May "Ban the Box" on Employment Applications

A recent Employment LawScene™ article discussed the EEOC’s recent heightened efforts to crack down on employers’ use of criminal background checks in making hiring decisions. As part of its efforts, the EEOC issued guidance to employers in April 2012, in which the EEOC endorsed the policy of removing questions regarding criminal conviction history from job applications as a best practice for employers.

Following the EEOC’s lead, in what can only be described as a nationwide movement that has recently gained considerable momentum, 53 local jurisdictions and 8 states (including Minnesota) have enacted “ban-the-box” legislation that would prohibit employers from considering a job applicant’s criminal conviction record before the applicant has been selected for an interview. Two other states, California and Illinois, have adopted “ban-the-box” policies through administrative directives rather than legislation. (Statistics courtesy of the National Employment Law Project).

Wisconsin could become the next state to “ban the box” on employment applications. On August 27, 2013, a bill that would prohibit employers from asking for information regarding an applicant’s criminal conviction record before the applicant has been selected for an interview, was introduced to the Wisconsin legislature and referred to Committee. Wisconsin Assembly Bill 342 provides that requesting an applicant for employment to supply information regarding his or her conviction record on an application form or otherwise inquiring into or considering an applicant’s conviction record before the applicant has been selected for an interview, constitutes employment discrimination under Wisconsin law. The bill would not, however, prohibit an employer from notifying applicants for employment that individuals with certain conviction records may be disqualified by law or the employer’s policies from employment in particular job positions.

Understandably, a number of employers use criminal background checks to identify job applicants who might present a risk to the employer’s business, its employees, and its customers or clients.  Wisconsin employers should pay close attention to Assembly Bill 342 as it makes its way through the State legislature, as passage of this bill could result in a number of employers having to make significant changes to their hiring processes and job applications.