Employers may be barred from initially asking about criminal past

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When applying for a job, one box with a check mark in it can sometimes seal the applicant’s fate even before you get a chance to interview. But soon, employers in Austin may not be allowed to inquire about an applicant’s criminal past right off the bat.

“My initial reaction is, [employers] should be able to ask that,” said Chris Stanley, who lives and works in Austin.

Austin City Council passed a resolution Thursday to change the way employers can vet job applicants based on criminal history.

“It is kind of up to the business, but at the same time, I see how the city needs to have some sort of oversight,” said Austin resident Michael Bogart.

“Over 25 cities and many states have passed policies requiring private employers to not immediately ask for the criminal background on the job application and to delay that question until they’ve really seen what a job applicant’s qualifications are,” said District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the resolution.

The president of the South Austin Business Association, Kenneth Vargas, says they oppose this regulation.

“Past criminal activity and convictions reveal character issues, and even though some people can recover from poor choices and their consequences, some do not,” said Vargas. “Employers need to have the discretion to consider applicants on a case-by-case basis and we need full disclosure in order to make the best choice in our hiring practices.”

“The policy that we’re hoping to draft is for those jobs when a criminal history isn’t necessary,” said Casar. “Why ask that on the first page of a job application and continue to exclude many people that want to get a second chance here in Austin?”

A stakeholder group to help write the policy will now be set up. By September, the group and city staff should have a policy to take to city council.

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