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Target stores will soon stop asking job seekers about their criminal records on employment applications as part of a national program set to roll out in 2014.
Target's "Ban the Box" movement calls for employers to "wait until a prospective employee is being interviewed" or has a prospective offer before inquiring about the applicant's criminal history, according to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, where Target is based.
Should small business owners follow Target's lead and nix the criminal history "box" on their employment applications?
The criminal history "box" has long been a standard part of many job appliations. It's a way for employers to allow applicants to voluntarily disclose details about their criminal histories, especially felony offenses. In most states, it is not illegal to ask for this information, but improper use of an applicant's criminal history can potentially lead to lawsuits.
The Star Tribune reports that Minnesota this year became the third state to require private employers to eliminate the criminal history "box" on job applications. Target appears to be following suit nationwide.
In part, removing the box allows applicants with criminal histories to have more confidence and face less confusion when applying for a position.
Other large corporations agree. A Walmart spokeswoman told the Tribune that the company removed its "box" in 2010, giving those with criminal convictions "a chance to get their foot in the door."
Target may be ditching the criminal history portion of its employee applications, but that doesn't mean that it won't be checking an applicant's criminal background.
Business owners who choose to follow Target's example can still legally conduct background checks -- ideally with the applicant's consent -- on those who have applied for an open position or accepted an offer.
These checks can provide a world of information. But depending on your state's laws, a small business owner may want to first consult with an employment attorney before inquiring into an applicant's criminal history directly.
Employers in most states can also legally drug test potential employees, as long as applicants are aware that the test is a standard part of the interview process.
A ban on the criminal history "box" doesn't necessarily invite criminal applicants, and if other states follow Minnesota's example, it could be the new standard for private employers.
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