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Beyond Ban the Box
What might be the next big trend in background screening?
Currently, over 100 cities and counties have adopted what is broadly known as “ban the box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record. President Obama endorsed ban-the-box by directing federal agencies to delay inquiries into job applicants’ records until later in the hiring process. There are a total of 24 states that have adopted the policies: California (2013, 2010), Colorado (2012), Connecticut (2010), Delaware (2014), Georgia (2015), Hawaii (1998), Illinois (2014, 2013), Louisiana (2016), Maryland (2013), Massachusetts (2010), Minnesota (2013, 2009), Missouri (2016), Nebraska(2014), New Jersey (2014), New Mexico (2010), New York (2015), Ohio (2015), Oklahoma (2016), Oregon (2015), Rhode Island (2013), Tennessee (2016), Vermont (2015, 2016), Virginia (2015), and Wisconsin (2016). Nine states have removed the conviction history question on job applications for private employers, which supporters embrace as the next step in the advancement of these policies; included are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring process. With a similar fairness objective in mind, the governor of Massachusetts signed a new bill into law which will ban employers from requesting salary history during a job interview. In a revolutionary attempt to close the wage gap between men and women, Massachusetts has become the first state to prohibit employers from asking about applicants’ salaries before offering them a job. The new law will require hiring managers to state a compensation figure upfront — based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company, rather than on what he or she made in a prior position. The bipartisan legislation, signed into law on August 1st by Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, is being pushed as a model for other states, as the issue  of men historically out-earning women who do the same job has bounded onto the current political scene.

Nationally, there have been a number of efforts to strengthen equal pay laws — which are  already on the books but tend to lack teeth — but none have succeeded thus far. Hillary Clinton has tried to make equal pay a signature issue of her campaign, while Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka praised her father for his actions on this issue when she spoke at the Republican National Convention recently.

By precluding companies from asking prospective employees how much they earned at their last jobs, Massachusetts will ensure that the historically lower wages and salaries assigned to women and minorities do not follow them for their entire careers. Organizations tend to set salaries for new hires using their previous pay as a base line.

The Massachusetts law, which becomes effective in July 2018, takes other steps as well to combat pay discrimination. Companies will not be allowed to bar workers from telling others how much they are paid; advocates say this move will increase salary transparency and help employees discover disparities. Massachusetts joins at least 12 other states that already require companies to allow employees to compare notes about how much they are paid. The Massachusetts attorney general will be charged with enforcing the law, which also gives workers the right to sue companies directly for any violations.

What are the implications for background screening companies? Just as “the box” has, in fact, been banned and disappeared from many employment applications across the country, we may start to see salary history being eliminated from employment applications, as well. For those screening companies offering employment history verifications and reference checking, questions pertaining to salary history may start to be a thing of the past. In any event, it will be fascinating to see if the law just signed in Massachusetts barring employers from asking for salary history catches on and if similar legislation is enacted in other jurisdictions. It will also be interesting to see if this trend spreads as rapidly and vociferously as “ban-the-box” has over the last several years.
Elaine Golden, Director of Sales
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