People with criminal histories looking for jobs in local and state agencies in California are now breathing their collective sigh of relief after Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new legislation last October 10. The newly-signed Assembly Bill 218, which was authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), “would prohibit a state or local agency from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction… until after the applicant’s qualifications for the position have been determined to meet the requirements for the position.” Prior to the bill’s signage into law, job seekers are immediately rejected during initial applications after disclosing their criminal pasts. The law will take effect July next year.
Asking about criminal records or running background checks is lawful, but only after first determining if an applicant’s qualifications meet the requirements of the job. Instances wherein this restriction can be waived off are for job openings in law enforcement, positions which entail working with children, the elderly or the disabled, and other sensitive positions in which criminal background checks are done at the employers’ discretion.
Also, this new law is yet another victory for groups and advocates pushing for the civil rights of former offenders. According to Assemblyman Dickinson, approximately one-fourth of adults living in California have had an arrest or a conviction record.
Additionally, advocates also mentioned that questioning someone’s criminal history during the initial job application had an effect during the time when the unemployment rate in the U.S. rose to 7 percent. Add in the fact that 65 million Americans have served jail sentences. They also said that questioning someone’s criminal past during the initial job application has a disproportionate effect on minorities.
Incidentally, the State of California isn’t the only state that has such a law. Eight other states have similar laws, with New Jersey possibly going next in line. Minnesota and Rhode Island were the two states that legalized similar bills earlier this year, in May and July, respectively.
Meanwhile, a Los Angeles employment lawyer commented on the recent ruling, stating that AB 218 is one of the laws that make the State of California more applicant- and employee-friendly states in the U.S. According to the top attorney who handles employment and labor law cases, ex-offenders who are in need of jobs will now have a chance to prove themselves to perform work in line with the minimum qualifications.