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D.C. employers pay nearly $500,000 under ‘ban the box’ law since 2014

“Ban the box” laws around the United States. (D.C. Office of Human Rights)

The District government has filed more than 1,100 administrative charges against employers who continue to ask about criminal histories on job applications despite a 2014 law that banned the practice. Those charges have netted the city more than $500,000 in fines for failing to “ban the box,” according to a report by the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

The report, released Friday, says the city has received more than 1,800 complaints since the D.C. Council passed the Fair Criminal Record Screening Act, which prevents employers from screening job applicants by checking criminal histories before an offer is made. Many applications still include a box which asks prospective employees to check if they’ve been convicted of a crime.

More than 90 percent of the administrative charges against employers were related to criminal background questions that appeared on job applications, the report said, while less than 5 percent involved questions an employer asked during an interview.

The report also noted the number of charges filed has decreased annually, from more than 400 in fiscal 2015 to fewer than 100 in fiscal 2018.

Office of Human Rights Director Mónica Palacio said details about the cases are confidential, but “some large multinational employers” changed their policies as a result of the legislation. If businesses don’t settle the complaints, she said, those with more than 100 employees can face fines up to $5,000.

“We wanted to show that the law had been quite effective in getting hundreds of employers who were out of compliance into compliance,” she said. “We wanted to set the record straight.”

Brian Ferguson, director of the city’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs, said questions about criminal records were “ubiquitous” on job applications before the law, often stopping those returning from prison from “getting a foot in the door” with possible employers.

“Today, it’s a much different landscape, much more favorable to returning citizens,” he said. “They can show their value.”

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The study — released the same day Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed similar legislation in that state — said 33 states, including Virginia, have passed “ban the box” policies around the country.

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