Gainesville hiring law would open job opportunities for arrestees

Gainesville businesses with 15 or more employees could not reject a job applicant based on past arrests under a new law proposed by city officials.

The city commission has asked its legal team to draft a “fair hiring” ordinance that will be presented to the business community for comment.

The proposed change would prevent local businesses from performing criminal background checks on job applicants prior to any job offers.

“This is the beginning,” Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said Monday. “It’s not the final order. We certainly want the opinion of the business community.”

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Most employers would initially be prohibited from asking about someone’s criminal record.

And once an employer makes an offer of employment to a candidate, that candidate’s background that did not result in a conviction also cannot be used against them to withdraw an offer.

Certain exceptions, such as when a criminal background check is required under state law, such as a daycare worker, will be made.

The city’s “fair hiring” law would be investigated and enforced by the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“People in this country are innocent until proven guilty,” Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said Monday. “I think the principles of our Constitution are pretty strong, and I think it’s important to try people on their guilt or innocence based on a jury of their peers.”

Under the proposal, businesses that violate the rule will first receive a warning and then a fine from the city, the commissioners agreed at the last meeting of the Policy Committee.

Chestnut asked at the Feb. 24 meeting that the proposal include recommendations from Community Spring, a grassroots organization “dedicated to economic justice.”

Among these requests, employers must:

  • Consider age at the time of the offense and consider information demonstrating rehabilitation and good behavior since the offense.
  • Provide applicants with a copy of records used in decisions.
  • Offer candidates the opportunity to provide the employer with additional information regarding their criminal record.

Chestnut requested that the final version of the ordinance be returned within three months of community input.

Latashia Brimm, who works for Grace Marketplace, said the bill would help her find a job and allow her to explain the circumstances of her conviction.

She said she was convicted of a felony after allowing a friend who had a foreclosure to move in with her in Section 8 housing.

She said the woman was saving up to go home, and Brimm said she even informed the social worker that the woman had moved in. But she got into trouble when another social worker took on her case.

“When I declared my income, I did not declare my friend’s income because it was not my income,” she said. “It was considered a fraud.”

Brimm said she hopes the “fair chance” proposal will prevent employers from automatically dismissing her and others based on a conviction.

Mayor Lauren Poe said the new law could include some exceptions, such as allowing employers to weigh arrests as domestic violence, which is often difficult to secure convictions due to witness intimidation and statements. back.

Poe said the city is also taking the draft recommendations and forwarding them to the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and other organizations for comment.

Community Spring has since released a statement in support of the “fair chance” proposal, saying about one in three adults in the United States have an arrest or conviction on their record.

“Many of them are denied jobs without being fully considered, despite being qualified and motivated to do the job,” the statement said.

He adds that as a result, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of more than 27% – higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression.

“Hundreds of people come home to us each year from the state prison, and the prison has a capacity of approximately 1,000 people at a time, most of whom will be returning home within a year,” the statement said. “In short, thousands of our neighbors are systematically excluded from the possibility of applying for well-paying jobs.”

The Community Spring article also says research shows that people of color are also treated more harshly if they have a criminal record than white people.

“The negative impact of a criminal record on getting a job interview is 40% higher for blacks than for whites with similar backgrounds,”

Max Tipping, a Community Spring attorney, said Monday the new law needs to strike the right balance “for something that’s going to be really meaningful and make a difference while making sure it’s not a burden on employers. “.

Tipping said other cities, like Chicago and Waterloo, Iowa, already have fair hiring laws. “It’s not a radical idea anymore,” he said.

About Jessica J. Bass

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