Warped Values and Perverse Incentives: Banning Employers From Asking Whether A Job Applicant Served Time

Sorry Hedley---it's unfair to ask a potential employees if they were rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers...and don't you dare ask if they are Methodists!

Sorry Hedley—it’s unfair to ask a potential employees if they were rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers…and don’t you dare ask if they are Methodists!

I was unaware that this was a trend: states and cities making it illegal for employers to ask job applicant’s whether they had been convicted of a crime and served jail time.

It is an unethical, foolish and illogical trend, an example of misplaced compassion being used to justify placing risks on law-abiding citizens for the benefit of those who are less trustworthy.

A news article regarding the problems faced by former prisoners re-entering society quotes Zach Hoover, executive director of LA Voice, a multiracial, faith-based organization working to get such a measure passed in Los Angeles:

“Sometimes people think of someone who’s been in prison and they think only of what they did instead of what they’re doing today. They’ve done their time. They served their sentence, and they’re looking for a job.It’s like double jeopardy. You’ve done your time, and now you get a life sentence of joblessness.”

What utter claptrap:

  • Job seekers quite appropriately reveal what they did in the past: it’s called a resume, experience, and qualifications, and employers quite reasonable seek such information. If the good stuff is appropriate to consider before hiring, so is the bad. Next we will have laws banning the request for qualifications—after all, this gives an unfair advantage to the successful, the hard-working, the accomplished and the ambitious.
  • They served their sentence because they broke the law. That is relevant information. If a potential employee raped someone, killed someone, set his last place of business on fire, kidnapped a child OR sold drugs to schoolchildren (you know—a non-violent crime. Why do we even sentence anyone for those? ), I should have a right to ask him, and if he lies about it, that disqualifies him right there.
  • Hoover seems to be under the impression that prison time is intended as absolution for all sins and misconduct. No, it’s the state’s punishment for law-breaking. Nothing says that the state’s action precludes a former criminal’s victims, which include all of society, from making their own judgments based on what the criminal did, and nothing should.
  • It’s nothing like double jeopardy, which holds that once a defendant has been tried and found innocent, he can’t be tried again. It’s double jeopardy if I tell my daughter that she can’t date O.J. Simpson because he, you know, kills women?
  • The way to avoid that “life sentence of joblessness” is not to break the law. It’s not that hard, you know.

The argument being put forth LA City Councilman Curren Pricen for his Los Angeles to justify his measure that would prohibit government contractors and private employers from asking about criminal records is that 1 in 4 Angelenos has an arrest or conviction record. Ah. So this is an “everybody does it” justification. The more ex-criminals there are, the fewer consequences they should have to suffer for breaking the law. This qualifies as “progressive thinking” in a lot of communities, apparently.

Let me put this simply, so fools like Pricen and Hoover can comprehend it. I have a right to know anything genuinely relevant to job performance when I am hiring, and the fact that the applicant has—or had—a tendency to break laws is always relevant. (Would Hedley Lamar be banned from asking about prior convictions when he is hiring an army of “rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists”?) Some crimes, like, say, killing his former boss or looting the cash register, are especially relevant. My reward for running a business is that the government is going to make it easier for former felons to get access to my trust without me being fully informed? Am I going to be banned from voting against the idiots who make unethical laws like this too?

Here is the ugly truth: too many minority Americans are breaking laws, so to appeal to their increasingly criminal constituencies, irresponsible politicians are trying to minimize the consequences of crime, as well as the stigma attached to it. This is yet another example of the government offering perverse incentives. My right to know who I’m hiring and how trustworthy he or she is should be respected, preserved and accorded higher priority than a former criminal’s fully-justified problems stemming from his own anti-social and unethical actions.

I was once challenged to name a single reason why ex-felons shouldn’t have the right to vote. Here’s one of them: they will vote for irresponsible, transparency-opposing officials like Curren Pricen.


Facts: Al-Jazeera


19 thoughts on “Warped Values and Perverse Incentives: Banning Employers From Asking Whether A Job Applicant Served Time

  1. Big cities — such as Philadelphia; Baltimore; Newark, New Jersey; and Buffalo and Rochester, New York — have extended it to private employers

    Have you considered the simplest motive- to ensure that elected officials could get jobs in the private sector?

  2. If the motive is to protect the people of his city, who according to the post, seem to have a 25% ratio of citizens with criminal histories, then what exactly is the issue?

    If it were left to the free market, eventually the labor pool dries up and employers are left with hiring ex-cons…

    I think what the real beef is, the ex-cons are bitching that they can’t get super cush jobs are only being hired into the lowest levels of employment.


  3. It’s a trend I missed. I could see having a larger blank if the applicant wants to throw them selves on the mercy of theemployer. Like for things that aren’t against the law now. But he really can’t mean it. He would not want convicted pedophiles and rapists teaching all his kids. Or the senior caregiver who’s offed their parent and collected the money for a few years. He must be thinking of joyriding to minor drug charges and all the prisoners who maintain they’re innocent like a cousin twice removed.

    No, I would agree that someone freed by some kind of innocence project or the like should be able to leave it blank. I agree that second changes and mercy are important, BUT that doesn’t mean they get to go back to an innocent’s life. They chose to give it up. Just because the mega bank scam offenders may get out and that is a non-violent crime, they do NOY get to return to finance or pretend they have a clean record. They aren’t touching my money if I have a say. I agree with progressive ideal in many cases, but this kind of mussy-headedness is it’s own worst enemy.

  4. This reminds me of what the future would be for Bedford Falls, N.Y. in “It’s A Wonderful Life” if George Bailey was dead. Of course Curren Pricen is compassionate for his constituency of felons and lowlife.

  5. I am wondering, are these advocates the same ones that demand we put safety warning information on products to protect the stupid. I would venture that have no problem demanding that others give them information while rejecting the notion that they have a similar duty.

    I am beginning to believe that this is part of an insidious process to control information flow and eventually the people. Power confers upon those that have information and the control the dissemination of that information. We must fight against the monopolization of information ownership.

    • The two are part of a discussion from the same concept of the Free Market. That is the role of information in a free market. I am a firm believer in the notion that a truly Fair truly Free Market involves FULL disclosure of information regarding product/goods/services. That means worker’s too.

      But the counterbalance to that, is I don’t see any impetus compelling the disclosure of information either. A vigorous and demanding market would create a competitive compulsion to reveal necessary information. That is to say, the consumers *ought* to tell suppliers “we won’t purchase your product if you don’t reveal info about it, we’ll go to the competitors who do”. Of course, consumers, busy enough in their own lives and their own roles in the Community and Market can’t expend much time seeking the information for a truly Free Market.

      So we do compel product labels.

      Safety labels? I think is a stretch.

      Individual interactions between employers and potential employees? I think the market can handle that. If a hirer doesn’t care about a huge gap in someone’s past, that may be a risk they’ll take. If a hirer does care, then let them dismiss the applicant who refuses to divulge.

  6. Employers have a right to know what they are getting into.
    Who wants to hire a guy who could end up costing you millions in settlements, your good name and so forth ?
    It’s not fair at all to force employers to take that risk just so you can get all touchy-feely and be “progressive and edgy”.
    Yet another stupid idea from the people who are Stuck On Stupid.

    I recently conducted a background search on a neighbor who’s been giving me bad vibes since he moved into the area in 2009.
    As it turns out, my suspicions were justified and we will never be putting him in a position of trust as neighbors sometimes do.
    We all have a right to know exactly who we’re dealing with so we can proceed accordingly.

  7. I’m a recruiter, and my team has engaged in circuitous conversations about this: our clients want to know whether candidates have criminal backgrounds, but we are no longer supposed to ask, even on employment applications. We are stuck in the middle, waiting for the day a lawsuit decides the issue for us.

  8. It’s hilarious to see the ridiculous actions of people in government. My rule is to apply Hanlon’s Razor to every situation first, but when it comes to politicians, I could forgive anyone for applying the inverse of it and assuming their actions are attributable to malicious intent, in this case an attempt to “buy” votes with legislation favorable to a significant subgroup of society.
    So will we now see attempts to repeal the sex offender registry in Los Angeles? After all, all one need do to discover a prior sex offense is to consult a public database. Also, it’s a simple matter to visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons and see if someone served time there since 1982. Many states also provide data about past incarcerations. I suppose this trend of laws would forbid us from taking such incarceration into account? No, what the law is saying is that you essentially can’t put a “Check here if you have been convicted of a crime” checkbox on the application.
    Jack is right about the “debt to society” thing, in my view. However, I believe there is an argument for changing the dreaded check box to read something like, “Check here if you have been convicted of a crime in the last 20 years.” I do think that after a certain point of re-entry into society and remaining out of trouble, a person’s criminal record might reasonably be considered irrelevant, and I do understand the tendency of employer HR departments to simply reject an applicant with a past criminal conviction — it is the “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” principle in reverse — nobody ever got fired for not hiring an ex-con. In other words, at some point, the check box becomes merely prejudicial rather than meaningfully informative.
    I also find it fascinating that this law would effectively allow the very classes of criminal that business might rationally most want to know about — embezzlers, thieves, fraudsters, and other economic scofflaws — to be the least likely to be discovered. Given a choice between a recent embezzlement conviction and an ancient sex crime, I’d choose the latter every time.

  9. Consider the kinds of jobs that some might apply for. A sex offender or pervert as a school teacher. We’ve seen the consequences of that happening. How about a member of a jihadist group wanting to work at an Army arsenal? He has the qualifications! A dope fiend working in a pharmacy. A professional forger or hacker in a bank? The list is endless. When you’ve done a stretch in prison on a felony conviction, you’re necessarily starting over from scratch. It’s up to that ex-con to prove that his prison time worked for him in the right way. Until then, he works at modest jobs that don’t put him in temptation’s way and he doesn’t vote until a governor or president pardons him after years of good behavior or a particularly exemplary deed.

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