THE NEW YORK TIMES
January 19, 2010
Among the leading causes of recidivism are employment policies in the private and public sectors that discriminate against former offenders and too often drive them back to jail. New York State first addressed this problem more than 30 years ago with laws protecting the employment rights of people with criminal convictions. But two investigations by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggest that some companies are finding ways around these laws.
Employers in New York can, of course, review an applicant’s history. But they cannot deny an applicant a job on the basis of a conviction without considering whether the offense bears a relationship to the job being sought. New York law also forbids employers from shutting out qualified applicants because of convictions that are sealed or dismissed, minor infractions like speeding tickets or for arrests that do not lead to conviction.
In a recently completed investigation, the attorney general found that ChoicePoint, a nationally known employee screening company, was involved in creating an online job application system for employers that automatically disqualified thousands of applicants who disclosed criminal convictions. Moreover, investigators found that the company had recommended to employers that they disqualify applicants based on sealed or dismissed convictions and legal outcomes that are regarded as violations — not crimes — under New York law. One ChoicePoint client violated state law by withdrawing conditional job offers after information that should not have been taken into account turned up in background checks.
In a separate investigation, the attorney general found that RadioShack also had ignored the law by rejecting job applicants whose violations had been sealed, set aside or deemed to be minor. Both companies have agreed to pay financial penalties and to obey the law, without admitting or denying wrongdoing. But the cases raise the disturbing possibility that the practices they engaged in may be more widespread than supposed in a state that has been a national model in giving former prisoners a chance at honest work.