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Baltimore City Adopts “Ban the Box”

Earlier this year, the City of Baltimore passed “ban the box” legislation restricting private employers from inquiring into the criminal history of job applicants (the “box” refers to the criminal history check-box on employment applications).  The new law forbids employers from making inquiries into a job applicant’s criminal history before making a conditional offer of employment.  The law does not, however, require that employers provide any notices in addition to those required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act when obtaining criminal history information from a background check vendor. Moreover, the law does not impose any additional restrictions on the criminal history that an employer can consider when making an employment decision. 

The new law applies to businesses employing 10 or more full-time employees in the City.  Additionally, certain exceptions apply.  For instance, the law does not affect employers that serve children or adults lacking physical or mental capacity (e.g., hospitals and nursing homes). The law also allows employers to investigate criminal history when expressly authorized by another law (e.g., under federal regulations, transportation companies must ask applicant drivers whether they have been convicted for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol).  These employers can continue to screen out such applicants at the initial stages of the hiring process instead of waiting until after the conditional offer of employment.

Any violation of the law is a misdemeanor with potential penalties of a $500 fine and 90 days’ imprisonment. In addition, the Baltimore Community Relations Commission may award a complainant back pay, reinstatement, attorneys’ fees, and compensatory damages, including damages for emotional distress and expenses incurred in seeking other employment. 

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