Members of the Employee Assembly are pictured at a meeting in April.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Members of the Employee Assembly are pictured at a meeting in April.

April 7, 2016

Employee Assembly Pressures Cornell to ‘Ban the Box’

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The Employee Assembly expressed support for a resolution urging the University to remove questions about previous criminal convictions from its job applications and voted to publish a statement responding to the Union of White Cornell Students at its meeting on Wednesday.

Garrison Lovely ’16, co-founder and president of the Prison Reform and Education Project, spoke about PREP’s efforts to promote the nationwide ‘Ban the Box’ movement at Cornell.

Current legal guidelines stipulate that employers cannot discriminate based on prior convictions alone, which can be difficult to prove, according to Lovely. Moving ‘the box’ to a later stage in the hiring process “isolates conviction itself” as the motivation for rescinding a job offer, he said.

“Employers can deny applicants solely based on their criminal history, but can claim that some other element of the application disqualified the applicant,” Lovely said. “Banning the Box is the only way to guarantee that applicants can prove that a negative hiring decision was made due solely to the applicant’s criminal history.”

The E.A.’s proposed resolution urges the University to join a national movement in removing the conviction question from its job applications. The Student Assembly passed a similar resolution on March 17.

“Cornell is the largest employer in Tompkins County and thus significantly impacts the labor market,” Lovely said. “The City of Ithaca has banned the box for its job applications, and PREP firmly believes that Cornell should follow suit.”

E.A. members present at the meeting largely supported the resolution, but questioned how the policy would affect temporary employees and its implications for employees in human resources.

Kruser argued that the E.A.’s support of banning the box would be a mostly symbolic gesture.

“I don’t see that there is, in reality, any significant impact on our infrastructure,” he said. “I think it’s more a resistance to change, and I think that that’s something we can help with more support.”

Due to parliamentary procedural regulations — which stipulate that a resolution be sponsored from within the body — the resolution could not be subject to a vote.

The E.A. also voted to release a statement on the Union of White Cornell Students. A draft of the statement was presented at E.A.’s March meeting, where it was subject to critique. The modified version “reflect[s] the conversations we had last time of identifying more directly how this affects staff and faculty as well as the student population,” according to Jeramy Kruser, one of three E.A. members who sponsored the resolution.

The revised statement includes “more explicit and direct action that we can take in response [to the Union of White Students],” Kruser said.

It also emphasizes the assembly’s “alarm” at “the manifestation of white privilege and ignorance apparent in the Union of White Cornell Students Facebook page.”

The resolution adds that the E.A. plans to use the creation of the Union of White Students to create conversation on diversity, privilege and their impacts on people of color.

  • Abe ’14

    The problem with Ban the Box, in general, is that it opens up small businesses to lawsuits if they don’t hire someone with a felony record. But there are many legitimate reasons why a person might not be hired – the first being that another candidate was better/had a better interview/etc.

    • Ban the Box makes it so the employers only conduct background checks after a conditional offer of employment is extended. That means that the employer already felt comfortable hiring the applicant based on his or her application and interview(s), so if the employer rescinds the application after the background check is completed then it must be BECAUSE of the criminal conviction history. This is completely within the employer’s rights, and the applicant now has pretty clear evidence to make a wrongful discrimination claim. The employer just has to prove that the conviction history disqualified the applicant for the job he or she applied to.

      • keep the box

        That massively slows down the hiring process, adds a significant expense, and won’t actually change the hiring decisions. Also, not everybody works at a giant company. Smaller employers don’t have the resources to do a comprehensive background check of every job applicant. They should be able to just ask if you have a criminal record.

        • Liz F.

          The EA is only asking Cornell, which is a giant employer, to ban the box.

  • tj
  • CU ’07 Alum

    The idea that an employer can’t ask someone if they’ve been convicted of a felony is patently absurd. Notwithstanding any state law prohibiting the practice, a felony conviction is a big (and very legitimate) reason for an employer not to hire someone. If a potential employee has been convicted of theft, battery, or any number of other felony (read: SERIOUS) crimes, then I wouldn’t want to hire them absent a compelling explanation regarding that conviction.