President Obama Boosts Employment Chances for LGBT Workers
America may be the land of opportunity, but the opportunity it offers is certainly not equally distributed. For many who are willing to work, the barriers to actual employment remain high. In no other community is this truer than among workers who are LGBT, or Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered.
For these workers, President Obama’s recent decision to force federal agency employers to “ban the box” stands to have a transformational effect.
What is “Ban the Box?”
The phrase “ban the box” refers to the criminal history question on employment applications. 90 percent or more of all domestic employers currently include background and criminal history checks as part of the standard hiring protocol. By “banning the box,” President Obama did not ban the practice of checking into a candidate’s criminal history. However, the act does delay when that background check occurs, placing it much later in the employment screening process.
How the Box Has Affected Employment
Why is this important? Studies show that candidates who do have a criminal record are much more likely to gain employment if they can proceed further on in the hiring process before having their background investigated. This delay gives these candidates more time to put their best post-criminal foot forward to gain an opportunity to win a job.
Currently, an estimated 60 percent of formerly incarcerated workers cannot even get a job in their first 12 months after gaining release. And of those who do find a job, they stand to earn an estimated 40 percent less than their peers who do not have criminal activity on record in their background.
How the Box Ban Will Affect LGBT Workers
Many LGBT workers today not only struggle to get hired, but many will quickly depart due to workplace hazing, harassment and discrimination. This sends many LGBT workers into the grey areas of employment such as the “adult” industry, dealing drugs and similar industries where the daily dangers include imprisonment and worse.
While President Obama’s recent ban affects only federal agency employers (about two percent of the total number of domestic employers nationwide today), it is viewed as an act that sets the bar higher for all employers. LGBT adults, especially minorities, suffer from extreme levels of poverty at much higher rates than their heterosexual white peers. Here, banning the box is an effort to fight back against the reality of poverty for LGBT individuals in general and LGBT individuals with a criminal history in particular.
Companies and States Follow Obama’s Lead
A number of prominent companies have also chosen to “ban the box” for their employment applications, as have 19 states. 100 local municipalities have also followed suit to delay criminal background checks until much later in the hiring process. This is heartening news for the approximately 100 million job seekers in the U.S.A. today who have criminal information in their personal history.
Target and Walmart are two of the best known employers who have banned the box. Among the 19 states, there are certain counties, municipalities or cities within each state that are now banning the box, but it may be just one or two in that state or the whole state may be participating.
“Walking While Trans” and How Banning the Box Impacts It
“Walking While Trans” is another phrase that has recently entered the common national lexicon courtesy of LGBT activists. This phrase refers to the tendency of law enforcement officials and employers to profile, or classify, transgendered individuals as engaging in illegal activity, particularly adult industry work, due only to their appearance. In some communities, simply walking down the street and stopping to say hello to people can get a transgendered person arrested.
Since this profiling can lead to arrests, incarceration and worse, President Obama’s action to ban the box among federal agency employers is expected to have its own ripple effect in this area as well. By standing up for transgendered individuals in particular, the act of banning the box takes aim at unfair and inaccurate cultural biases that harm others.
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Banning the Box is Not a Ban, Per Se
While the phrase “banning the box” definitely has media appeal, President Obama’s ruling is not a ban in the literal sense of the word. Rather, it is a much-needed and long overdue delay in the criminal background check portion of the hiring process that permits LGBT and other at-risk populations to have a better chance to gain employment.
As well, there are other acts in the works that promise further protections to LGBT individuals and those with criminal activity in their background, including The Equality Act and the Fair Chance Act. The ultimate goal is to ensure universal nationwide protection for these at-risk groups so they can feed their families and be productive members of society.
Content courtesy of Neches FCU, an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer.
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