Construction Contractors under Fair Chance Employment Act


In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Assembly Bill 1650, the Fair Chance Employment Act, authored by Assembly member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer last year. The new law took effect on January 1, 2015. As per the new law, State contractors may not ask about conviction history in initial hiring process of construction workers. This will decrease the impediments for ex-offenders to obtain employment by requiring private contractors who have state contracts to remove the conviction history box from job applications.

This policy only applies to on-site construction related jobs that fall under the State Contract Act which includes the erection, construction, alteration, repair, or improvement of any state structure, building, road, or improvement project. Any person submitting a bid to the state on a contract involving onsite construction-related services shall certify that the person will not ask an applicant for onsite construction-related employment to disclose orally or in writing information concerning the conviction history of the applicant on or at the time of an initial employment application. This Act requires some employers to “ban the box” that talks about convictions from their employment applications.

The law attempts to address three major issues –

1) Discriminatory employment practices for individuals with prior criminal convictions

2) Extremely high unemployment rates for individuals with criminal backgrounds

3) High recidivism rates within California.

Technically, it does not prohibit or otherwise limit a state contractor who employs on-site construction-related employees from conducting a criminal background check. But the legislative analysis specifically notes that employers should continue to approach these decisions with care to avoid violating employment discrimination laws, which require that job requirements be justified when they fall more heavily on some groups. The new law does not affect the existing law requiring that employment standards be related to the job.

Men and women released from prison often face obstacles as they return home to their communities, however none can be more difficult than finding employment. Thus, removing the conviction history box can give thousands of individuals a fair shot at employment while simultaneously decreasing the recidivism rate, increasing economic activity and improving public safety. 

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