City to stop asking job applicants about criminal records

The employment application for positions with the city of Minneapolis will soon leave off the question that asks job hopefuls whether they've ever been convicted of a crime.

The City Council approved the elimination of the box on the city's employment application that requires the disclosure of past criminal records at its Dec. 22 meeting. State law already prohibits discriminating against applicants with criminal records, and the Council's resolution will further ensure the city complies with that statute. The Council's resolution will also enable the city to further assist in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders by providing them with greater access and encouragement to apply for living-wage jobs. The resolution notes that the lack of employment opportunities for individuals with a criminal record is a major contributing factor for recidivism.

Councilmembers Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) and Don Samuels (5th Ward) authored the resolution, which drew wide support from community members at a public hearing Dec. 18.

&#8220I think this is a responsible thing to do but also something that helps us with our duty to the community,” Glidden said.

Certain positions in the city, such as those in the fire and police departments, will be exempted from the resolution if the full City Council approves it.

Minneapolis will also continue to perform criminal background checks on applicants for about two-thirds of positions in the city, Human Resources Director Pam French told committee members. Positions that the city performs background checks for include those wherein the employee handles cash or a cash equivalent, is a caregiver for children or vulnerable adults, enters private homes or secure businesses, has regular access to drugs or controlled substances, or has a position involving a large volume of supplies or materials handling.

But under the resolution, the roughly one-third of positions for which the city does not perform criminal background checks would also lack the question requiring applicants to voluntarily provide information about their criminal records. While French said the city's Department of Human Resources supports the resolution, she had to provide a disclaimer. If the city does hire someone who has some level of physical assault history management is unaware of, it could be putting employees at risk. She added, however, that of the applicants for city jobs who voluntarily disclose that they have criminal records, less than one-fourth of a percent are rejected.

Tom Johnson, president of the Council on Crime and Justice, said he supports the resolution because when individuals have served their time in prison, they have the right to move on with their lives without their criminal record hanging over them. This resolution ensures that an applicant's criminal record does not play a role in whether he or she obtains the position, he said.

&#8220It will give a person with a criminal record a fair opportunity to make their case why they should be hired for a position they feel they are qualified for,” Johnson said.

Cheryl Morgan Spencer with the Minneapolis Urban League said the resolution also increases public safety. Ensuring criminal offenders have access to living-wage jobs is the only way to break the cycle of arrest and release, she said.

&#8220This is a commonsense issue,” she said.

Members of the City Council serving on the committee said they hope the city will serve as an example that private businesses will follow. City officials in St. Paul also decided in early December to strike questions about a person's criminal record from its employment application.