Oh boy! Convicted criminals processing your tax returns!
President Obama, ever willing to rule by decree when he can't get the votes in Congress, has issued an executive order forbidding federal agencies from asking job applicants about their criminal histories on their employment applications. The idea behind this concept, known as "ban the box," (the box next to the question asking whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime) is that people with records have a tough time finding work after they're sprung. So if employers don't find out about an applicant's rap sheet until later in the hiring process–such as when doing a background check–they might decide that decide that the applicant is so super-qualified that they'll hire him despite that little old burglary conviction from years past.
While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant's record….
President Obama spoke to several federal prisoners about that very approach in July, when he was the first sitting president to visit an American prison.
"If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process," he told them, "you're more likely to be hired." Obama described what many studies show – that when many employers see the box checked for an applicant's criminal record, they weed them out without ever looking at their qualifications.
"If they have a chance to at least meet you," the president continued, "you're able to talk to them about your life, what you've done, maybe they give you a chance."
The best analysis of Obama's help-a-con order comes from Power Line's Paul Mirengoff:
Obama says he wants employers to look at the qualifications of ex-cons before they disqualify them. But employers typically don’t weigh qualifications against criminality — the two criteria are entirely separate. If your past criminality is deemed to present an undue risk, it doesn’t matter how qualified you are. The federal government presumably uses this common sense approach to hiring.
The real effects of “banning the box” are more subtle than the ones Obama posits, or so it seems to me on initial reflection. First, it will prevent the feds from excluding ex-cons who lie about their criminal record. Why? Because if an applicant whom the government wants to hire is revealed via a background check to have prior convictions that he didn’t disclose on the application, the applicant can be excluded for lying even if the offense itself wasn’t serious enough to have disqualified. But if the employer doesn’t ask, there can be no exclusion for lying.
Ex-cons who are willing to lie do not deserve to be hired. Now, some will be.
Second, some ex-cons will be hired without the government knowing of their criminal history. Criminal history checks are, after all, not perfect.
Mirengoff thinks that the real purpose of Obama's order–besides securing the jailbird vote for the Democrats–is to make it easier to win a discrimination lawsuit if, say, you're an ex-con and you're almost hired–until your prospective employer finds out about that mugging:
Obama would probably love to see the federal government start losing lawsuits over its use of criminal history in employment decision-making. What can’t realistically be done by executive order can, perhaps, be accomplished by liberal judges.
But as the American Thinker's Thomas Lifson puts it: "One certain prediction: Obama and his family will never be guarded by a Secret Service agent with a criminal record."