by Kevin C. McCormick
Employers in Baltimore will face new restrictions in conducting criminal background checks now that the city council has passed a tough new “ban the box” law.
Bill 13-0301, titled “Ban the Box—Fair Criminal Records Screening Practices,” passed the Baltimore City Council on April 28 and was expected to gain Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s signature. It is to go into effect 90 days after adoption.
Going far beyond the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s proposals on criminal background checks, Baltimore’s new law prohibits most employers from inquiring about applicants’ criminal background before making a conditional offer of employment. The bill’s sponsors claim the restrictions are needed to help Baltimore residents with criminal convictions obtain employment.
The bill applies to all Baltimore employers with 10 or more full-time employees in the city. It also covers contract, temporary, seasonal, and contingent workers as well as employees who work for a temporary agency or other employment agency.
Employers in Baltimore will be prohibited from inquiring about or taking adverse action against an applicant on the basis of an arrest or a criminal accusation if the arrest or accusation isn’t pending and didn’t result in a conviction. It also restricts preliminary inquiries into applicants’ criminal records.
Before making a conditional job offer, an employer won’t be allowed to:
- Require an applicant to disclose his or her criminal record or reveal whether he or she has a criminal record;
- Conduct a criminal record check; or
- Ask an applicant or others whether the applicant has a criminal record.
The law also stipulates that covered employers may not take or refuse to take a personnel action, retaliate, or discriminate against an individual as reprisal for alleging a violation of the proposed statute.
Employers can reject an applicant with a criminal background as long as the information isn’t obtained before an interview or if federal or state law requires a criminal background check before hire. If an employer doesn’t interview an applicant, it can’t make an inquiry into or gather information about the applicant’s criminal record.
Applicants who believe they’re not hired because an employer is in violation of the new law can file a claim with the Baltimore Community Relations Commission. If a violation is found, an applicant can receive back pay, reinstatement, compensatory damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. In addition, violators of the new law face criminal penalties. An employer may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $500 or be imprisoned up to 90 days for each offense.
Kevin C. McCormick is chair of the Labor and Employment Section with the Baltimore law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Baltimore’s ban-the-box law, see the April edition of Maryland Employment Law Letter.