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Dallas Considers Prohibiting Criminal Background Job Application Questions


Criminal Background Check | Image by Shutterstock

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The Dallas City Council is considering an ordinance that would prohibit private employers in the city from asking job seekers about criminal history on initial applications. Background checks would be allowed later in the hiring process.

The ordinance would apply to all private businesses with 15 or more employees, and be accompanied by fines for non-compliance.

However, the mandate would not apply to the City of Dallas itself, though it already has this policy for hiring many of its city workers. Still, criminal history is an immediate rejection for some positions, like in the police department.

The City of DeSoto has a similar law in place for private businesses. The DeSoto Chamber of Commerce has pushed for the ordinance to pass in Dallas.

Big Tony’s Cheese Steak restaurant on Hampton Road in DeSoto follows the rule, and workers who spoke at the council Monday expressed their support for the ordinance.

“Some crimes may be worse than others, but everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves, I personally believe. And I personally haven’t been affected by it, but I know others who have, and I think they really do deserve that chance,” employee Jamereian Fininen said.

“Everyone deserves that chance to better themselves, so it should be the law,” Fininen added.

Formerly incarcerated people have a substantially higher unemployment rate than the general population. On average, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a 27% rate, according to 2018 research by the Prison Policy Institute.

That rate has potentially worsened since the pandemic, when the general unemployment rate spiked to 15% in April 2020. However, no updated data on unemployment for formerly incarcerated people have been released.

“If you compare it to the general population of America, it would be higher than anything we experienced since the Great Depression,” said Wanda Bertram, communications strategist with the Prison Policy Institute.

Dallas City Council members discussing the plan Monday shared how their backgrounds shape their views on the ordinance.

Councilmember Chad West said he owns car wash businesses.

“As a business owner, I’m still going to want to know before I hire somebody if they have a criminal history or not and what that is,” West said. “I think I have a duty to my company, my investors, my customers, and other employees to just vet everybody out.”

Still, the council was not ready for the final vote on the ordinance.

Councilmember Paula Blackmon argued the proposed $500 fine for violators of the ordinance would not be enough to ensure compliance.

“It is the details and the wording that matter. I just feel this is the first of good conversation,” Blackmon said.

Some variation of a “Fair Chance” ordinance is in effect in 150 cities and counties and 37 states around the U.S. In Texas, Austin also has a Fair Chance law that covers private businesses, which was implemented in April 2017.

The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce opposed the ordinance before its passing.

Unless data can confirm the ordinance is reducing unemployment among people with criminal histories, it is not worth the burden on businesses to comply, according to the Austin chamber’s Senior Vice President of Advocacy Drew Scheberle.

Dallas officials will return to the Quality of Life Committee with additional revisions and clarification before a future vote.

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2 months ago

As with most liberal policies, this is another “rules for thee but not for me” trope. The City will still be able to mitigate their liability by screening for criminal history, but those who can afford it least, small businesses, will not. The City should not be in the business of creating ordinances that it won’t also be subject too.

Kenneth P
Kenneth P
2 months ago

As a Healthcare company, we are required by the State of Texas to ask this question. What sense does it make to ask it ‘later in the process’? If you’re not tired of liberal policies, you’re just not paying enough attention.

2 months ago

Not asking this exceedingly important question could put everyone especially children at risk. Asking for trouble when this question isn’t asked! I sure wouldn’t want to work with a murderer or child molester!!

2 months ago

This is just forcing more small businesses to pay for background checks that they may not be able to afford. If it’s to be passed for the general population than the government should also have to follow it. Why should they be excluded?

Richard T.
Richard T.
1 month ago

The entire job of the Dallas City government it to insure that all RESPONSIBILITIES such as police , fire protection and emergency services together with trash collection, water/sewage and sanitation etc. , etc. are all performed in a financially responsible way. PERIOD !! This does
NOT include some council members Social Engineering Projects. Furthermore, the Council lacks the authority to decree how any individual may operate their private business excepting racial discrimination or maters of public safety and the like.
This particular Dallas Council seems to be wandering about looking for lost causes like some demented Don Quixote in stead of tending to the jobs they were HIRED to do.