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California Cities and Counties “Ban the Box” That Asks About Criminal History on Job App

It’s a familiar box on any job application. “Check here if you have ever been convicted of a crime in a court of law.” But is it legal?

Recent US Census results illustrate that as many as 70 million American adults have a criminal record of some kind. In California, as many as 1 in 4 adults has an arrest or conviction in their history. Employers are reluctant to hire individuals with such a background, even though they may otherwise be well-qualified. Supporters of the so-called “Ban the Box” movement, which would remove application screening questions pertaining to an individual’s criminal history, aim to level the playing field between job-seekers.

Nationwide, over 100 cities and counties in 19 states have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. 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.

In California, this policy is state law as to public employees. Signed on October 10, 2013 by Governor Edmond “Jerry” Brown (D), AB 218 removes questions about convictions from state agency, city, county and special district job applications and postpones such inquiries until later in the hiring process.

Several California cities and counties have passed ordinances in Alameda County, Berkeley, Carson, Compton, East Palo Alto, Oakland, Pasadena, Richmond, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County that dictate at which point in the hiring process an employer can ask about an applicant’s criminal history.

For example, San Francisco recently passed the “Fair Chance Ordinance,” which prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from inquiring about an applicant’s involvement in the criminal justice system, both on an application and during an initial interview. The ordinance applies to regular employees, temporary employees, and independent contractors, and also requires that employers provide an applicant with written notice before a delayed probe into their criminal background.


San Francisco passes “Fair Chance” Ordinance © Jennifer Grady

Other cities, such as Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and Compton, have banned employers from asking about criminal history on employment applications. Statewide, the California legislature has banned employers in the public sector (government agencies) and contractors from doing the same.

Are your application procedures in compliance with your city or sector’s regulations regarding criminal history? To find out, contact a California employment lawyer to review your employment application to make sure it does not ask any illegal or discriminatory questions that may subject your business to employment lawsuits.

About The Grady Firm

To schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with The Grady Firm’s employment attorneys, call (949) 798-6298, or fill out a Contact Request Form.

The Grady Firm’s employment law department can update your business’ company policies/Employee Handbook, create new policies, prepare employment forms, and explain the detailed nuances of California employment and wage and hour law.


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