Standing outside a West Hartford sandwich shop Friday, protesters called on employers to end what they called “the foolish and discriminatory” policy of excluding people with criminal histories from getting a job.
“It makes a lot of sense to open up the job pool” and give everyone a shot at getting hired, said Kennard Ray, the national director of strategic partnerships with the Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
Hartford resident Jose Colon, a single father of two, said he lost out on an assistant manager job at D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches after the company offered him the position then recanted once it ran a background check that merely confirmed the criminal record. Colon said he’d already told them about the record.
“My background just haunts me,” Colon said. “I can’t move forward in my life because of charges in my past.”
Connecticut lawmakers are considering a “ban the box” measure that would prohibit private employers from asking job-seekers whether they’d ever been convicted of a crime until at least the point where they decide to hire someone.
The Fair Chance Employment Act secured the backing of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. Its next stop in the legislative process is uncertain, but Ray said support for the proposal is growing daily.
Opponents of the idea, including the National Federation of Independent Business, say it would impose more complications on employers already swamped with regulations and might open them up to legal liability if they hire someone with a criminal past who hasn’t reformed.
Dennis Patouhas, a home care provider in Greenwich, told legislators it would not be fair to bar his industry from exploring an applicant’s criminal past without also shielding it from liability in case something bad happened. Even then, he said, publicity surrounding a problem could be damaging to a company.
But the measure’s supporters said society will be better off if it opens the door to greater opportunity for those needing a second chance.
Proponents of the bill stood on a Kane Street sidewalk on April Fool’s Day to call attention to the refusal by D’Angelo’s to hire Colon and the necessity of lawmakers taking action to give more people a shot at employment.
Perhaps ironically, the bill under consideration would probably not have helped Colon. Its application for the assistant manager position he sought — which is still advertised at the Kane Street location — doesn’t ask about criminal history. The background check that blocked his hiring was only done after he was offered the job, something the measure would not change.
One change included in the bill would bar employers from using some old criminal convictions from hiring decisions. It would prohibit looking back more than three years for misdemeanors and a decade for felonies.
But Colon — who served prison time as a young man for robbery and burglary after a rough childhood that included periods of homelessness and drug addiction — said he was also charged with stealing a purse at a laundromat a few years ago.
That didn’t stop him from getting a job at a Taco Bell and rising to become its manager, he said. He gave up that job to take the one at D’Angelo’s, Colon said, and wound up with neither. He has found other work since.
Colon said he’s determined to provide a stable and worthy environment for his children so they never have to deal with the hardships he’s seen.
He said he felt defeated when D’Angelo’s called to let him know his criminal record had caused them to reverse the decision to hire him. He said he came away from the experience determined to do what he can to make it easier for those who have paid their debts to society to find work and become productive citizens.
“What I want to do is prevent this from happening to others,” Colon said.
Subira Gordon, the legislative analyst for the African American Affairs Commission, asked what people are supposed to do if they can’t find gainful employment. She said taking the question of criminal backgrounds off job applications would at least give everyone a fair shake to make a case for themselves to an employer who might otherwise not give them any shot.
David McGuire, legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said there is “absolutely no doubt” that the existing system has a bigger impact on communities of color than on society as a whole.
“If someone commits a crime decades ago, it shouldn’t hold them back for the rest of their lives,” McGuire said.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission said nearly a decade ago that it had identified criminal record exclusions as “one of the employment barriers that are linked to race and color discrimination in the workplace.” In 2012, it urged employers to stop asking about criminal backgrounds.
Many states and municipalities have taken steps to “ban the box” on employment applications. Connecticut ceased asking about past convictions for state employment in 2010 and neighboring states have gone further to limit their use by private employers.
Gordon said potential employers should provide the opportunity for applicants to have a shot so that final decisions on hiring can be made on the merits rather than simply excluding many who are seeking to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Attempts to reach officials at D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches were unsuccessful Friday.