City Hall

Dallas to Consider "Banning the Box" Citywide

The city of Dallas might become Texas' second major city to "ban the box" and require private employers to delay asking applicants about their criminal backgrounds until they have been given a conditional offer of employment. The policy change would bring private employers in line with the city itself, Dallas County, Austin and companies such as Starbucks, Target and Wal-Mart.

The city has delayed asking about criminal backgrounds for all non-sworn city employees since 2007. Dallas County, thanks to a strong push from County Judge Clay Jenkins, started doing the same last year. State Representative Eric Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas, also spearheaded a failed charge to delay background checks during the hiring of state employees during the 2015 legislative session. He intends to pick the fight back up in 2017.

"Many employers use any disclosure [of a criminal record] as an immediate disqualifier for a potential employee," Johnson said last year. "As a result of that type of behavior on the part of employers, an individual who was formerly incarcerated — no matter the reason, no matter what the conviction was for — is never really given an opportunity, and certainly not an opportunity to come in for an interview."

"Banning the box" — referring to checkboxes on employment applications asking about arrests — does not mean that the criminal records of potential employees could not be looked at or considered by those doing the hiring, be they public or private entities. Delaying a background check is delayed until after a decision to hire the applicant has been made will allow someone with a criminal background to win over whoever's doing the hiring without a scarlet letter hanging over his or her head.

Urmit Graham, Dallas County's interim director of human resources, said late last year that delaying asking about criminal records is essential to getting those with records back in the workforce.

"The key is to get those people through the door. Right now, through self-selection, [ex-offenders] automatically say, 'Since they ask these questions, I'm not even going to apply,'" Graham said. "We [at Dallas County] get over 100,000 applications a year. Managers, trying to find the top 20, may see an [application with the box checked] and decide that's not something they want to worry about. Hopefully having these questions at the back end will delay [cutting qualified applicants]."

Austin's law, which is presented as a model in a presentation Dallas city staff is set to give the City Council on Wednesday, only applies to for-profit businesses with more than 15 employees. When enforcement of the ordinance begins in 2017, employers who violate the law will face fines.

After being briefed Wednesday, the council could vote on a background check ordinance as early as this summer.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young