Ban-the-Box Proposal Could Hurt Colorado Small Businesses

Date: March 01, 2016 Last Edit: March 02, 2016

Business owner says the push to ban employers from asking applicants about criminal backgrounds is misguided.

Ban-the-Box Proposal Could Hurt Colorado Small Businesses

Mike Donahue owns a real estate and brokerage company in Belmar. Lately, he’s been dismayed by the talk about a ban-the-box proposal in Colorado.

A growing national movement to “ban the box”—the “box” being the job application question that asks if applicants have a criminal past—could sweep its way to Colorado, limiting the ability of small businesses to screen potential employees upfront about their criminal backgrounds.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy has called for legislation to bar private-sector employers from immediately asking job applicants whether they have a criminal record. Employers would be able to ask only later in the hiring process.  

That doesn’t sit well with Donahue.

“In the real estate business, we have to be really careful about who handles our information,” said Donahue, owner of Spectrum Properties. “We have a fiduciary responsibility (to our clients). We have earnest money and trust accounts, which hold tens of thousands of dollars. It just saves everybody’s time and a lot of headaches if you take care of it upfront.”

The ban-the-box proposal wouldn’t apply to employers who are required by law to consider an applicant’s criminal history, such as those that serve minors and other vulnerable groups.

Colorado law already prohibits asking the question on applications for many state jobs. If a private-sector bill were to pass, Colorado would join seven other states with similar ban-the-box laws.

State Rep. Beth McCann, who intends to sponsor a ban-the-box bill, told Colorado Public Radio that the state’s recidivism rate is affected when a criminal can’t find employment.

“Are we really keeping the community safe by putting people in prison, but then when they get out, not providing them the opportunity to be productive?” she told Colorado Public Radio.

But Donahue said it’s unfair to assume small business owners would automatically reject an applicant due to a criminal record.

“It’s much more important to me that someone is a good employee and does a good job than what they may have done when they were younger,” said Donahue, who also ran a building contracting business in the ’90s. “I’ve hired convicted felons in the past, but I always knew about it upfront and used my judgment.”

As long as local lawmakers press forward with the ban-the-box effort, Donahue will continue to speak out against it.

“I’m a free market guy,” he said. “I think the government tries to create solutions to problems that don’t exist. And the blanket statement that all business owners treat convicted felons unfairly is just not true.”  

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