New law bans La. city contractors from initially asking job seekers about criminal history

According to the new law, prospective employers must conduct at least one in-person interview before inquiring about any past misdeeds

By Jeff Adelson
The Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. — Starting in March, companies that do business with City Hall can no longer require prospective employees to list their criminal histories on job applications and must conduct at least one in-person interview before inquiring about any past misdeeds.

The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed the law Thursday. It mirrors guidelines already in place for the city itself.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, the ordinance is designed to remove obstacles that prevent former inmates from finding jobs and rebuilding their lives after prison.

The measure will take effect whenever the city signs a new contract or renews one of its hundreds of existing agreements, which cover everything from trash collection to management of the traffic camera system.

The ordinance will still allow employers to ask about a candidate’s criminal history and conduct background checks. But those inquiries will be banned on initial employment applications, which otherwise would typically ask about past felonies.

Contractors also will have to conduct at least an initial interview with an applicant before looking into past convictions.

Advocates refer to the law as “ban the box,” a reference to the space on traditional job applications asking job seekers to indicate whether they have been convicted of a crime.

The city will be able to cancel the contract of any company that does not abide by the policy.

Similar policies have been in place for most city departments since former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration. The new ordinance codifies those policies into law and extends them to contractors.

Private businesses that do not do work for the city will not be affected.

Earl Hagans said he’s had firsthand experience with the difficulty of finding a job after getting out of prison. Hagans served five years for drug possession before being released earlier this year as a result of sentencing reforms passed by the Legislature last year.

Although he’s now employed, Hagans said that during his job search, he found that “when you say you’ve been convicted of a felony, it’s like you hit a wall.”

Hagans is a member of Step Up Louisiana, a workers’ advocacy organization that has pushed for the "ban the box" law and other measures, including a $15 minimum wage for city employees.

The ordinance was originally supposed to be approved earlier this month, but the City Council balked at amendments sought by Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration that some feared would weaken and delay the measure.

The administration asked the council to add an amendment that would have required only “substantial” compliance from companies, something advocates said could create a loophole in the law. That language was not in the version the council passed on Thursday.

Council members also objected to a request from the administration to delay implementation of the measure until April 1, rather than the proposed Jan. 1. The final version includes a compromise date of March 1.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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