In January of 2015, several organizations including NELP (National Employment Law Project) and All of Us or None took action to urge President Obama to issue an executive order to “ban the box” on job applications. “The box” in reference is the question on most job applications that inquires about an applicants’ criminal history. By barring employers from asking straight away about criminal history, the organizations feel that qualified employees with a criminal history could be given a second chance.

On November 2, 2015, President Obama addressed the issue in front of a crowd in Newark, New Jersey. He directed the Office of Personnel Management to delay asking about criminal history until later on in the application for all federal government positions. A spokesman for the president said that President Obama doesn’t want to issue an executive order for “ban the box” because he wants the effort to be signed into law so that another President cannot easily undo the action.

Does Every Single Employer Have to Change Applications?

At this point, most privately owned companies do not have any type of legislation that forbids asking about criminal history on an application- though some states and localities may have regulations specifically forbidding it. At this point, the president has only taken action to prohibit federal government agencies from asking about criminal histories. Many companies have decided to get ahead of the curve, however, and remove the question from their applications.

Does This Mean No Background Checks?

Many companies are put off by the idea of hiring people with criminal histories-and rightly so in some cases. Even if put into law, “ban the box” would not prohibit companies from running background checks or asking about criminal histories, the conversation would just be delayed to allow applicants to make an impression before discussing the events of the past. President Obama feels that this would help applicants to “get through the door” and potentially have a chance to prove themselves.

Goals of the Action

While some citizens and employers have shown resistance to the “ban the box” initiative, many have shown support for the action. The goals of the action are to help people that have made mistakes or participated in criminal activity in the past to reintegrate into society and become productive citizens. Instantly eliminating applicants from the running for a job because of a conviction can be a serious barrier to entry that may persuade criminals to resort to earning money illegally.

Adapting to the Action

While companies do not yet have to conform to the “ban the box” legislation, it may be wise to act preemptively in order to begin to adapt to the changing societal perspective. Waiting until later on in the application process to ask about criminal history is one step, but being more open to hiring employees that have criminal histories that are unrelated to the job may also be a progressive motion. Of course, it may be wise to remain rigid when it comes to crimes more directly related to the job.