By Patrick Donachie
The Fair Chance Act turned one year old Oct. 27, with advocates and community members saying continued education and outreach was the key to ensuring the law’s continued success.
The act mandated that employers could not ask about an applicant’s criminal history until a job offer had been made.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) attended a panel discussion at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning to celebrate the anniversary. He said the new stipulation made it easier to determine if an employer was taking an applicant’s conviction record into account.
“The concern was that employers were using the information inappropriately,” he said. “It’s got to be a priority for society to make sure that people re-enter society in a way that they can be productive, because almost everyone in jail is going to get out of jail.”
The law, which also disallows job advertisements from stating that people convicted of felonies should not apply, was passed by the City Council last year in a nearly unanimous vote and was subsequently signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. It pertains to any business with four or more employees.
Michelle Knox, a program director with the HOPE Program, works to help impoverished New Yorkers via job training and career advancement support. She said some employers were still unaware of the new law, and she still saw applications with a box included where applicants must check if they have been convicted of a crime.
“It’s imperative on us to educate,” she said, detailing the story of a student with a felony record who was hired to work in a restaurant and underwent a background check. The student’s offer was then rescinded, Knox said. He visited the HOPE Program, and representatives contacted the New York City Commission on Human Rights to open a case.
Knox said the restaurant rehired the student, and he had been at the job successfully for two months.
The Fair Chance Act came in the midst of a national advocacy effort to “ban the box” on employment applications, outlawing the practice of asking if an applicant has been convicted of a crime. In November 2015, President Barack Obama issued an executive order banning the box on applications for federal agencies. William Whittaker, an associate human rights specialist for the city, noted that New York City passed its Fair Chance Act before the federal government did, which Associate Human Rights Specialist Sulekha Prasad said was a laudable aspect of the city’s mission.
“That’s one of the things that makes New York special,” she said. “Our law is very robust and that’s something we should be proud of.”
Kevin Livingston, the head of 100 Suits for 100 Men, said he thought knowledge of the Fair Chance Act could be more widespread.
“We want to make sure that people know you have a right to apply for that job,” he said.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona