Oregon became the seventh state to ban the box for private employers, prohibiting any questions about criminal background on employment applications and at any time before an initial interview takes place. Oregon’s law took effect January 1, 2016.
Ban-the-box laws have become increasingly prevalent as a way to help provide ex-offenders an opportunity to be considered for employment before the risk of stigmatization from disclosing a criminal past. All of these laws prohibit criminal history questions on an initial job application, but the laws vary in terms of when criminal background questions may be asked. Some prohibit all criminal background inquiries until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Oregon’s version of the law is less restrictive, allowing criminal background inquiries as early as the first interview. Oregon employers that do not conduct interviews, however, are prohibited from inquiring about criminal backgrounds until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.
The Oregon law does not apply to private employers that are required by another federal, state, or local law to inquire into criminal backgrounds, and does not apply to the retention of non-employee volunteers.
Statewide ban-the-box laws now cover private employers in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Oregon. Cities and counties with ban-the-box laws include New York City; Philadelphia; Seattle; Newark; San Francisco; Baltimore; Washington, DC; Rochester; Columbia, MO; and several counties in Maryland.
The restrictions in New York City, the District of Columbia, and Philadelphia are among the toughest in the nation, providing a list of specific factors that employers must consider before disqualifying an applicant based on a criminal past. The Oregon law, in contrast, imposes fewer restrictions on employers that wish to consider criminal history, so long as convictions are considered at the appropriate time in the hiring process.
The patchwork of state and local ban-the-box laws creates particular challenges for multi-state employers. Those companies that use different versions of employment applications in different states should add Oregon to the list of states where criminal background questions are removed from the application.