“Ban the Box” and LinkedIn Prescreening Job Obstacles

Ban_BoxNew Orleans      Maybe there’s some hope for job applications from different sides of the fence in fighting the employment obstacles created by prescreening for job applicants in a coincidental conjoining of problems for former felons and professionals, white shoe job applicants where both get screwed and left on the curb and out of work.  Who would have imagined that former felons and fans of the professional social networking site, LinkedIn, used by many for job searches would have common cause, but employer abuse might provide just that.

            The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has been promoting a “ban the box” campaign for several years and now reports that 12 states along with 66 cities and counties around the country have eliminated the box on job applications about whether or not the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.  Many of these jurisdictions have only banned the box when hiring in the public sector, but a recent NELP report finds that in some areas private sector employers and contractors have also been required to ban the box, including Buffalo and Rochester in New York, as well as Newark and Philadelphia.   The impact of such actions is to force employers to make decisions on hiring an applicant based on her qualifications, rather than their biases about their past.

            A lawsuit by a woman named Sweet in Suwanee, Georgia may topple prescreening utilizing LinkedIn on the white shoe side of the fence as well.  Ms. Sweet applied for a job with a hotel chain and didn’t get the gig.  She later found that the hotel company, like many other employers it seems, subscribed to LinkedIn’s so-called premium service which allowed them to search for connections between Sweet and others who claimed to have known her or worked with her, frequently in only the most random and coincidental ways.  Nonetheless, they could message these people directly for information and/or references on Sweet and in so doing block her from employment.  Sweet got a lawyer and sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act saying this was prescreening.

            The reporter doing this story for the New York Times had a company do a search on her own LinkedIn account that produced forty connections claiming to have worked with her at the Times including two interns among others.  She only personally knew four of the forty, and was somewhat horrified that any of this random list might have been able to determine her future employment status.  I dare say.  I don’t use LinkedIn, but I have an account and routinely “accept” anyone who wants to link to me largely because doing so confuses data aggregating sites that specialize in profiling, but of course I’m not looking for a job, since I’m already overwhelmed by all I do now.

            Jobs are hard to find though, so anything that might link some of the bigger whoops with so many people in our communities that have been stigmatized by “broken window” policies of urban police forces that have tacked criminal records on vast numbers of people for minor and trivial pursuits, and put all potential jobs on a firmer footing and more level playing field would be a good thing.  Fair is fair, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t a prospective boss have to actually read your whole application, interview you seriously, and make the hard call about whether you might be just the worker for their business?  I should say so!