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Are Minnesota employers allowed to question job applicants about criminal background?

There's a saying that to err is human. There have likely been times in all of our lives when we experience lapses in judgment or found ourselves in a difficult situation. The great thing about human beings is our ability to learn from mistakes and change our behaviors accordingly.

For individuals with a criminal record, the long-lasting implications of a DUI conviction or drug arrest can have negative and far-reaching implications on both one's personal relationships and ability to secure employment. In fact the employment screening practices of many U.S. businesses automatically excludes individuals with criminal records before they can be judged on their merit and experience. This changed in Minnesota in January of 2014 when Gov. Dayton signed a bill into law that included provisions making it illegal for private Minnesota employers to ask questions related to a job applicant's criminal background on job applications.

Publically referred to as the Ban the Box law, the decision to pass the law was important for many reasons. According to the National Employment Law Project, an estimated 25 percent of American adults have a criminal record. Many employers previously used criminal background questions on initial applications as a way to weed out these job candidates regardless of their qualifications or experience. Therefore a large percentage of Minnesota residents, many of whom are minorities, had difficulty obtaining gainful employment.

Additionally, baby boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, there will be increased demand and opportunities for those seeking employment. If Minnesota employers were allowed to continue to engage in previous employment screening practices, millions of otherwise qualified job candidates would be disregarded; thereby further diminishing their ability to better their lives and economic standing.

Minnesota is one of 13 states that have some type of Ban the Box law and while the premise of the law goes a long way towards banning job discrimination against individuals with criminal records, a recent Star Tribune article raised questions about employers' compliance with the law. To date, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights reports that 50 Minnesota companies have been cited for still using job applications questioning applicants about their criminal backgrounds.

Source: Minnesota Department of Human Rights, "Ban the Box: Overview for Private Employers," 2014

Star Tribune, "New 'Ban the Box' law tripping up Minnesota employers," Jennifer Bjorhus, Nov. 17, 2014

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