Target takes aim at criminal history box

Target, faced with what some might view as a sack of lemons, has decided to make lemonade.

Based in Minneapolis, the huge retailer would have been subject to a new state law that requires companies to delete the “criminal history” check box on job applications. Instead of complaining or merely quietly complying, Target decided to create a national campaign to get more states to eliminate the criminal history box.

For years, standard employment applications have included a line item or box that asks applicants whether they have a criminal history and, frequently, requests further details. Opponents of “the box” claim that it usually leads to an application being rerouted to the trash.

Wal-Mart removed the criminal history box from its applications in 2010, said spokeswoman Dianna Gee. “The removal does not eliminate the background check or drug test, but it offers those who’ve been previously incarcerated a chance to get their foot in the door,” she said.

Rhode Island and California both adopted laws that have been dubbed “ban the box” laws. The laws ban the criminal history question from written or online applications. Employers can’t pose the question until the first live job interview.

In the wake of Minnesota’s adoption of a similar law, Target branded its campaign “Ban the Box.” The company did have some time to think about it. The state removed “the box” from state employee job applications in 2009, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have similar laws on the books.

The company -- with $73 billion in annual revenue, Target has about 1,800 stores and 362,000 employees nationwide -- intends to roll out the campaign nationally next year, reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“The initiative … calls for employers to wait until a prospective employee is being interviewed or has a provisional job offer before inquiring whether he or she has a criminal past,” the newspaper reported. “The idea is that ex-offenders will have a better chance at getting a job if they’re not eliminated at the very beginning of their job search.”

“It’s a big deal in the sense that people with criminal records are going to be given a better chance at employment,” said Dan Oberdorfer, an employment lawyer with the Minneapolis law firm Leonard Street and Deinard. “So earlier in the process employers will have a completely open mind.” 

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