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Suffolk ‘bans box’ asking about record

Folks applying for city jobs in Suffolk have faced one fewer barrier in recent months.

The city decided effective Nov. 30 to remove a question asking applicants if they have a criminal record, a movement known nationally as “Ban the Box.”

“It’s something I have been considering and researching for a period of time,” said Dr. Nancy Olivo, the city’s human resources director. “In the fall, when the federal government, who is a major employer around here, made the change, I felt like it was time to get on board.”

President Barack Obama ordered that the box be banned from federal job applications in November. This week, his administration also warned landlords that refusing to rent to those with criminal records — another place the box appears on an application — may violate the Fair Housing Act.

Olivo said the question has been removed from the city’s main application, which is consistent for every position. It still exists as part of the “supplemental questions” for certain positions, such as police officers and firefighters.

“Those questions have to do with particular requirements for those jobs,” Olivo said, adding that certain criminal charges also would disqualify applicants from other jobs, working with children as a social worker, for example.

Olivo said the city still does background checks on every potential hire, but the change increases the perception that employment is open to everyone.

“If there’s a perception, somebody might self-select and not apply for a job, and they could be a very good candidate,” Olivo said. “There are some individuals that certainly deserve a second chance.”

She did stress, however, that the city “will not hire a candidate who has a background that would make them ineligible for a position.”

Olivo said she believes the change makes the city more competitive in attracting good candidates.

According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 70 million people in the United States — about 1 in 3 adults — have some sort of criminal record.