Christine M. Cunneen, CEO of Johnston-based employee-screening firm Hire Image LLC, says not all companies throw out any job application with a “yes” next to the “prior criminal convictions” question.
With federal equal-opportunity guidelines warning against blanket hiring exclusions for ex-offenders, Cunneen said employers are now digging deeper to learn whether the applicant’s brush with the law really makes them unhirable.
“The guidelines say you shouldn’t have a blanket policy [toward prior convictions] unless you’re in an industry where it’s prohibited by regulation,” Cunneen said. “And in my practice with the human resources community, most employers don’t – they have multifaceted criteria.”
Still, Cunneen said employers are going to find out about criminal convictions if they want to know and attempts to legislate the hiring process, like the current “ban-the-box” bill proposed by Rhode Island lawmakers, would likely be counterproductive.
Cunneen is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management’s Rhode Island council, which opposes the bill, along with most business groups in the state.
In addition to concerns about government intrusion in free enterprise and the belief that companies should know as much as possible about who they hire, business leaders worry the bill could set the stage for a wave of opportunistic lawsuits.
“There are attorneys out there nationally just looking for lawsuits, doing it under the federal laws, but if Rhode Island were to pass it, attorneys would go after that too,” Cunneen said.
So-called “ban-the-box” bills, which refer to the criminal-conviction field in standard job applications, have been debated in state legislatures across the country. This is the third straight year a bill has been filed in Rhode Island.
In response to heavy opposition from the business community in previous years, this year’s bill has been scaled back. (An early version in 2011 required employers to notify applicants in writing if they were turned down because of a conviction and restricted the ability of companies to perform background checks.)