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California passes "ban the box" and salary history laws

A bill that prohibits most private sector employers from asking people who are applying for jobs about their criminal background has been signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown. The bill, which is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, applies to all employers with five or more workers. Public sector employers were prohibited from asking these questions by a previous state law. Another bill signed by the governor prevents both private and public sector companies from making inquiries about salary histories.

Employers may still ask about prior criminal convictions, but these inquiries cannot be made under the new 'ban the box" law until an offer of employment has been conditionally made. The legislation also requires employers to complete a 'fair chance" process when they rescind such offers after learning about a candidate's criminal history. Similar measures have been introduced in more than 150 jurisdictions across the country.

Laws forbidding salary history requests have also passed in many cities, but they have often been fiercely opposed by the business community and lobbying organizations. A local business group in Philadelphia sued the city when such a law was passed in January, and a similar bill was vetoed by the governor of Illinois in August.

People sometimes feel powerless when they are being treated unfairly by their current or prospective employers, but laws like these may remind them that legislators at both the federal and state level take these matters seriously. However, proving unfair labor practices could be difficult without corroborating evidence, and attorneys with employment law experience may urge people who are thinking about filing complaints to keep detailed records and gather as much documentation as they can.

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