California’s Ban the Box Law: Championing Fair Employment Opportunities

Inquiring employee filling out job application in California, Ban the Box law enacted within application.

In the realm of employment, California has consistently been at the forefront of enacting progressive legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all its residents. The Ban the Box Law stands as a testament to this commitment, offering hope and fairness to job applicants with a criminal history. This article delves deeper into the nuances of this groundbreaking law, shedding light on its implications for both job seekers and employers.

Introducing the Ban the Box Law

The Fair Chance Act, commonly referred to as the Ban the Box Law, was a significant stride taken in 2018. Under this legislation, employers with a workforce of five or more are restricted from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until they extend a conditional job offer. This pivotal move ensures that the initial evaluation of a candidate is based on their skills, qualifications, and fit for the role, rather than any past mistakes.

The Historical Context

Historically, the presence of a checkbox on job applications, requiring candidates to disclose any criminal records, became a significant barrier. Many qualified individuals found doors closed to them due to past transgressions, irrespective of their relevance to the job at hand or the time that had elapsed since. The Ban the Box movement emerged from this injustice, advocating for a more equitable hiring process.

The journey towards the enactment of the Ban the Box Law, or the Fair Chance Act, in California is rooted in broader social justice movements, past legislative attempts, and a fundamental shift in perceptions about criminal justice and rehabilitation.

  1. Origins of the Movement: The Ban the Box movement began in the late 1990s, originating from grassroots campaigns led by formerly incarcerated individuals and their advocates. These activists highlighted the systemic barriers that people with criminal records faced, which often condemned them to a life of limited opportunities and economic instability, even after serving their sentences.
  2. Shift in Public Perception: Over the years, there was a growing realization that mass incarceration practices had deeply impacted communities, especially those of color. The public sentiment began to shift from a punitive perspective towards a rehabilitative and restorative one. Recognizing the need to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into society and provide them with fair employment opportunities became a central discussion.
  3. Early Adopters: Before the state-wide law was enacted, several cities in California had already adopted local Ban the Box policies. These cities paved the way, demonstrating the viability and benefits of such a policy. Their successes and challenges informed the crafting of the statewide law.
  4. Support from Research: Various studies conducted in the years leading up to the law’s enactment indicated that gainful employment was a significant factor in reducing recidivism. By giving those with criminal records a better shot at employment, the state could potentially enjoy broader societal benefits, including reduced crime rates and lower burdens on the state’s criminal justice system.
  5. Connecting with Broader Movements: The Ban the Box movement in California, and indeed across the U.S., paralleled other social justice initiatives aimed at dismantling systemic barriers. These included movements against racial profiling, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the war on drugs. All these movements converged on a common theme: a call for a more just, humane, and equitable system.
  6. Influence on Other States: California’s decision to adopt the Ban the Box law had ripple effects across the nation. As one of the most populous and economically powerful states, California’s policy decisions often serve as a bellwether for other states. The successful adoption and implementation of the law in California played a role in inspiring similar legislation in other jurisdictions.

Objectives of the Law

Searching into the objectives of the Ban the Box Law in California for fair and just treatment of prospective employees.
Searching into the objectives of the Ban the Box Law in California for fair and just treatment of prospective employees.

At its core, the Ban the Box Law seeks to humanize the hiring process. By delaying the disclosure of criminal history, the law ensures that candidates are first and foremost seen through the lens of their professional qualifications. This not only increases opportunities for those with a criminal past but also enriches the talent pool for employers.

Here are the expanded objectives of the law:

  1. Promote Employment Equity: One of the primary objectives is to level the playing field for all job applicants, regardless of their past. By removing the immediate obstacle of a criminal record checkbox, the law ensures that applicants are first judged based on their merits, skills, and experiences.
  2. Reduce Recidivism: Employment is a significant factor in preventing re-offense. By enhancing the chances of individuals with a criminal record to secure stable employment, the law aims to reduce the likelihood of them reentering the criminal justice system.
  3. Strengthen Communities: When individuals with criminal records can secure stable jobs, it benefits not just them but their families and communities. Gainful employment can lead to economic upliftment, greater community engagement, and overall societal stability.
  4. Address Systemic Discrimination: Historically, certain communities, particularly communities of color, have been disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. The law seeks to address, to some extent, the systemic discrimination these communities face in the job market due to past offenses.
  5. Acknowledge Human Potential for Growth: People change, learn, and grow. One of the law’s underlying objectives is to recognize the transformative potential within individuals, allowing them the chance to redefine themselves outside of their past mistakes.
  6. Foster Rehabilitation and Integration: By giving those with criminal records a fair shot at employment, society signals its willingness to reintegrate and rehabilitate, emphasizing that individuals are not perpetually defined by their past actions but have the capacity for change and contribution.
  7. Economic Benefits: On a broader scale, increasing employment rates and reducing recidivism can lead to significant economic advantages for the state, ranging from reduced burdens on the criminal justice and welfare systems to increased consumer spending and tax revenues.

Key Provisions for Job Applicants

For those seeking employment, understanding the protections offered by the Ban the Box Law is crucial:

  • Initial Application: The initial phase of job applications must be free from any inquiries into criminal history.
  • Conditional Offer Stage: Only after expressing a genuine interest in hiring the candidate can employers delve into criminal records.
  • Individual Assessment: Should an employer contemplate retracting a job offer due to a discovered criminal history, they are mandated to evaluate if the specific criminal record would adversely impact the candidate’s ability to perform the job’s required duties.
  • Opportunity to Respond: Crucially, candidates are given a voice. If an offer is withdrawn, they have the right to challenge the decision, providing context or disputing the criminal record’s accuracy.

The Importance of Rehabilitation

Central to the ethos of the Ban the Box Law is the belief in rehabilitation. Everyone deserves a second chance. Recognizing the transformative journeys many individuals undergo post-conviction is essential. Time since the offense, nature of the crime, and evidence of rehabilitation should all be considered in the hiring process.

Tips for Job Applicants with Criminal History

Navigating the job market with a criminal record can be daunting. However, armed with the right knowledge and approach, it’s possible to find fulfilling employment:

  • Stay Informed: Knowledge is power. Familiarize yourself with the Ban the Box Law and your rights under it.
  • Open Dialogue: If a potential employer raises concerns about your criminal history post the conditional offer, address it candidly, highlighting any rehabilitation efforts and your current qualifications.
  • Documentation: Maintain records of any rehabilitation programs, community service, or other relevant activities that showcase your commitment to positive change.


  • What actions can be taken if an employer violates the Ban the Box Law?

Applicants can lodge a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or seek legal representation.

  • Does the Ban the Box Law apply universally across California?

The law is applicable to employers with five or more employees. However, certain roles, especially those mandated by law to conduct background checks, might be exempt.

How Fraigun Law Group Can Help

At Fraigun Law Group, we believe in the power of second chances and the right to fair employment. Our dedicated team is well-versed in the intricacies of the Ban the Box Law. If you feel your rights have been infringed upon or need clarity on your standing as a job applicant with a criminal history, we’re here to assist and advocate for you.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult a qualified attorney for specific legal concerns.



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