New Orleans 'bans the box' for city contractors

The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that prevents city contractors from asking about potential hires’ criminal history on their job applications — a measure that extends an existing City Hall policy to people who want to work under employers with city contracts, cooperative endeavor grants or grant funding.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the ‘ban the box‘ ordinance is designed to remove obstacles that prevent former inmates from finding jobs and rebuilding their lives after prison.

The measure will take effect whenever the city signs a new contract or renews one of its hundreds of existing agreements, which cover everything from trash collection to management of the traffic camera system.

The ordinance will still allow employers to ask about a candidate’s criminal history and conduct background checks. But those inquiries will be banned on initial employment applications, which otherwise would typically ask about past felonies. Contractors also will have to conduct at least an initial interview with an applicant before looking into past convictions.

“This is going to change lives, this is going to improve our city,” said Council President Jason Williams. For formerly incarcerated people re-entering the workforce, “this is going to remove obstacles.”

In 2014, city officials approved a policy that ‘bans the box’ for unclassified positions at the city level, but it wasn’t uniform among contractors or employers receiving city funds. The new regulations will go into effect March 1, 2019.

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