The challenges of employment applications for multi-state employers

The challenges of employment applications for multi-state employers

One of the hottest trends in employment in recent years has been the passage of “ban-the-box” and salary inquiry prohibitions in states and cities across the country.

Limitations on salary inquiry have popped up in recent years as part of the legislative fight against wage discrimination and the gender pay gap. Proponents of such prohibitions argue that salary history questions feed into the discrepancy between what male and female employees are paid by continuously repeating history.

Currently, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon and Puerto Rico have banned inquiries about prior salary, as have cities including New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia, with dozens of other states and local governments considering such measures.

The colloquial term “ban-the-box” refers to a box that applicants check to indicate they have a criminal record on standardized application forms. About 20 states and more than 150 local entities have already enacted legislation addressing inquiries into criminal history. The trend even went federal in 2015 with the Fair Chance Act introduced in Congress. Although the measure did not pass, it demonstrated the popularity of the movement.

The proposed federal legislation also shined a light on the situation facing multistate employers, with different laws in different states and in some situations, different laws in different cities or municipalities within the same state. One law may contain an outright ban on inquiries into salary or criminal history while another may place restrictions on the timing of the questions. Some laws define covered employers to include businesses with five or more employees; another may not apply its limitations to employers with less than 50 workers.

As an example, although the state already limited employers’ ability to ask job applicants about any juvenile court matters, the California legislature broadened its ban-the-box protections for employees with a new law in 2017. Employers in the state are restricted from making hiring decisions based on an applicant’s convictions records and forbidden from considering conviction history until a conditional offer of employment has been extended.

If an employer elects not to hire an applicant because of a prior conviction, the employer is required to conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether the history has a “direct and adverse relationship” with the job duties that justifies denial of the position. Written notice must be provided to an applicant that his/her conviction history has disqualified the applicant from employment, along with five days to respond and dispute the decision. A second notice must be provided with the final decision not to hire.

In contrast, Vermont’s ban-the-box measure takes a different approach, allowing employers to question applicants about their criminal records during the job interview, albeit providing an applicant with the opportunity to explain their record. And under New York City’s law, an employer commits a per se violation of the statute by using recruiting materials of any kind (including advertisements, solicitations or applications) that express, directly or indirectly, any limitation or specification regarding criminal history.

While the overarching principle remains consistent, the details of the laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For multi-state employers, coping with such a patchwork of legal requirements poses a serious challenge.

As the number of state and local jurisdictions with laws addressing salary inquiries or criminal history continues to expand, multi-state employers should brace themselves for a giant compliance puzzle – and consider getting help from an expert.

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