In an effort to eliminate job discrimination in Austin TX, the city’s council officially voted and approved the Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance April 4th, 2016. This ordinance, the first of its kind in Austin, has been enforced in a majority of states across the US, in a move towards eliminating social injustice for ex-convicts.
District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar, who proposed the policy last year said “It was a really long journey, but I think it really shows this new council is dedicated to thinking of local government in a more bold and progressive way than we might be used to,” adding:
“This is, at heart, an anti-discrimination, civil rights piece of legislation, but I believe it also to have great benefits for public safety and economic development.”
What does it mean for employers?
Before fair chance hiring, background checks were typically performed in the very beginning of the hiring process, as a way to separate applicants with criminal histories.
The Fair Chance hiring ordinance, though, changes the order of things, and now requires background checks to be performed towards the end of the hiring process for businesses with over 15 employees.
The ordinance, which can be read in its entirety here, requires employers to give candidates, regardless of criminal backgrounds, a fair chance at the job.
While ex-convicts may see this as a good thing, some employers and business owners throughout Austin have expressed some concern or doubt. Opposing council members, one being Jose Carrillo, say the new policy may not be simple, or cost-effective to implement by the one year deadline.
“We don’t feel that it’s good business to have the background check when you make somebody a job offer, which is toward the end of the [hiring] process, because there are costs involved,” Carrillo said.
Other foreseeable issues
Pamela Bratton, vice president of Meador Staffing Services in Austin opines that the new policy will have a negative effect on temporary staffing firms, who need to provide qualified employees in little time. If the background check is postponed until the end, the staffing firm and employer have to essentially wait to get the background check back before moving forward. City Council responded to Bratton’s concerns with an amended exception to the legislation that allows temporary staffing firms to run background checks after placing applicants in a pool of qualified candidates, but before offering them an official assignment.
Other business owners have expressed additional concerns for companies that manage or do business in multiple cities, and will have to use different hiring policies. Austin Apartment Association spokesperson Paul Cauduro said while the property management industry recommends running background checks later on anyway, a mandate to hold checks until the end could cause problems.
“Finding a good maintenance technician is very difficult, so [property managers] don’t want to lose out,” Cauduro said. “They want to find out up front someone is disqualified so they can keep their options open.”
Another opposing council member, Ellen Troxclair, expressed an entirely different concern than just financial and time burdens. She feels the ordinance gives the government too much power over what used to be a voluntary process. “The size of the bigger businesses already allows them to enforce a policy like this, but it’s not the government’s job to mandate when a private business owner should be permitted to do a background check,” she said.
It is important to note, this does not mean employers are forced to choose a candidate regardless of their criminal history. After receiving the results from the background check, employers have complete autonomy to deny the candidate.
But don’t fret
Flux Resources, a recruitment firm based in Austin, TX, already employs a fair chance hiring process and hopes to encourage other businesses about the new citywide policy. Bobby Dettmer, Flux Vice President, said “I just feel like if people start doing it the way we’re doing it, I think they’ll notice it takes them a lot less time to find the right person,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping.”
At Flux, the background check, which includes a drug screening, costs a total of around $87.
Dettmer says they save additional money by only running background checks on candidates who have been offered a position by a client, instead of every single person who interviews.
According to him, he has only had to restart the hiring process because of a background check a handful of times.
This new ordinance also allows businesses in Austin to stand on the forefront and teach other areas of a policy that may soon be nationwide. States like Washington, Minnesota, Oregon and California are already utilizing some form of fair chance hiring.
Austin businesses with over 15 employees, which amounts to just over 7,000 companies, have one year to adopt the fair chance hiring policy. After that point, employers found in violation will receive a warning for a first-time offense and a fine of up to $500 for subsequent offenses.
Businesses will receive written notification of the new law, but the city’s manager will also implement a public education campaign to inform employers and residents of the requirements. City staff estimates the first-year cost of education and implementation would be $345,000.