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Blocking in Memphis: Ban the Box Comes to Shelby County, Tennessee

Music landmarks and legends found a home in Memphis. It’s home to the biggest movements in blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. Now the second biggest city in Tennessee is part of a big movement in background screening.

Shelby County, Tennessee, where Memphis is located, has joined the ban the box movement.

The new law blocks public-sector employers from reviewing job candidate’s criminal history before the job offer.

When does the law take affect?

On July 27, 2020, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners passed the ordinance. The ban-the-box restrictions apply to Shelby County government jobs. The ordinance takes effect on August 11, 2020.

What does the Shelby County law say?

Want to get the full details? View Ordinance Number 513 ››

The Shelby County ordinance provides guidance and restrictions on how and when to use criminal history, with some exceptions. Here is a roundup of some of the main points for Shelby County government employers:

Pre-background check:

  • Do not ask for criminal history before a contingent job offer is extended.
  • Give candidates documentation. Job candidates should see a conditional offer letter of employment, notice of rights under the ordinance, and a request for authorization to conduct a background check prior to initiating a background check.
  • Include specific information regarding background checks in job postings.

Post-background check:

  • Limit what criminal records you look at in a criminal background check. Arrests without conviction, expunged records, juvenile history, and more should not be considered.
  • Focus on criminal convictions that apply to the job duties only or automatically bar employment according to other laws.
  • Provide the applicant with a specific notice if the job candidate’s criminal history may hold back hiring.
  • Leave room for the whole story. If a job candidate made amends from past conviction, they may provide evidence to support their fitness to work. That open position should be held for them until a final hiring decision is made.

The ordinance specifically bans the box for government jobs with Shelby County. But not so fast. The ordinance signals to third parties associated with the county, too. In it, they suggest government offices may want to work with partners that have similar hiring practices in place. Any vendor, contractor, or supplier to Shelby County may want to review their hiring procedures. The county “prefers” working with partners that have similar “conviction history policies, practices, and standards” in place. This includes a recommendation that vendor job applications not contain a “box” about prior criminal convictions (unless otherwise required by law).

If you do business with Shelby County, it may be a good idea to discuss the new ordinance with your legal counsel to determine how the ordinance may impact you.

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