As you can imagine, we talk about workplace discrimination quite a bit at The Noble Law. Much of our work occurs when employees are dealing with racial discrimination, gender discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, or other forms of discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against formerly incarcerated employees, on the other hand, usually takes place before employment begins.
One of the themes we focus on the most is why employees deserve a work environment where they are respected and safe. A financially stable job that meets those criteria allows people to ground themselves in their lives. The effect that having respect for yourself and the ability to provide fundamentals of life (food, shelter, transportation) can have should not be underestimated.
One of the more commonly accepted forms of workplace discrimination is discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals. Efforts to change this discrimination (which is inextricably tied up with racial and socioeconomic factors) are often referred to as “banning the box”, with the goal of removing questions inquiring if a job applicant has been incarcerated from employment applications.
A focus on opening the applicant pipeline can have positive outcomes for organizations as well. Statistics from staffing agencies show that this can decrease employee attrition for employers by more than 70 percent! Encouragingly, positive strides are being made. According to the National Employment Law Project, almost 80% of the U.S. population lives in an area with legislation to protect against automatic disqualification from a position due to a history of incarceration.
However, when you drill into the numbers, there is work still to be done. While 35 states prevent this discrimination in public-sector employment, only 15 states extend these protections to private-sector positions as well.
As the executive director of JP Morgan’s policy center (an organization at the forefront of changing the stigma around criminal backgrounds) stated, blocking formerly incarcerated individuals from participating in the economy creates “costs that are not only borne by the individual, but their families, their communities.”
Some of the work that our managing partner, Laura Noble, does with “Stand up For Workers PAC” is in ensuring that we elect representatives who are willing to push for expanded protections in hiring. You can read more about that on their website. If you or someone you know has dealt with discrimination for being formerly incarcerated in the hiring process, it may be valuable to speak with an employment attorney to better understand your rights. Head to our website page here to schedule a consultation, or call our team.