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Second chances are an important part of life.


Those with a criminal past know this all too well when embarking on the difficult task of landing a good job.

At the Portland Business Alliance, where I chair the board of directors, we believe in the importance of work and in the critical need to get more people joining the workforce.

So we were pleased when “ban the box” came up in the Oregon Legislature this past spring, and when Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into state law in June.

This is an important conversation for our state and for the health and vitality of Oregon families. As business leaders, we know that a job can change a life.

Our number one objective at the Alliance is to grow private-sector employment opportunities in the Portland-metro region so when we see an obstacle to job opportunities, we want to tackle it. That is why we supported the effort to “ban the box,” which removes the criminal history check-box from employment applications.

In our current economy, open positions often generate hundreds of applicants, making the task of initial screening a daunting one.

An easy way to screen, even for the most well-intentioned employer, is to rule out anyone who chose to be honest and check ‘yes’ on the employment application criminal background box.

Many employers have already realized this could prematurely eliminate qualified candidates and several have voluntarily removed that box from their employment applications.

Based on this growing trend, it made sense to have a uniform statewide policy and support removing the box altogether in Oregon as long as employers retained the ability to conduct criminal background checks in a manner that made sense for their unique business.

The bill met our goal of giving employers flexibility to determine if a candidate’s background meets their business needs while helping more ex-offenders get in front of employers.

Criminal background checks may now be conducted after an initial interview or when a conditional offer is made if no interviews are conducted.

There are some jobs that don’t work for people with certain kinds of criminal backgrounds while in other circumstances, that same criminal background may not be a hindrance.

You may wonder why background checks are necessary at all. Many employers, such as real estate and financial institutions, face regulatory and compliance rules that prohibit them from hiring individuals with a criminal background into certain positions.

Others, such as school construction, home remodeling or cleaning services have to ensure the safety of their customers when they send employees unsupervised into schools, homes and offices. There are a lot of factors to consider, and the person best positioned to think them through is the hiring manager who understands the job requirements.

What the new state law ensures is that employers and potential employees will have the conversations and personal interactions needed.

Most employers want to see people employed.

Banning the box will help get more applicants to the table with prospective employers to get to know the whole person and evaluate whether a past conviction would be a problem for a specific job. I believe these conversations will lead to more ex-offenders finding jobs.

In the construction industry where I work, we hire many people with criminal pasts.

Their history may mean we can’t send them out to certain job sites based on the type of job it is, but overall many of these ex-offenders have become some of our most valued employees. Banning the box — and being more open to considering people with criminal backgrounds — offers second chances, gets good people back to work, and exposes employers to a wider talent pool, while assessing risks and respecting other state and federal rules and laws.

I appreciate city of Portland officials for starting this conversation. In creating this statewide law, I want to sincerely thank our state Legislature and Governor Brown for thoughtfully balancing the needs of employers while working to give so many people a real chance to rejoin the workforce, which is good for ex-offenders, employers and the community as a whole.

Mitch Hornecker is executive vice president and chief legal officer, West Region, at Howard S. Wright Balfour Beatty Construction. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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