Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Mexico to delete question about convictions from state application

In what is hailed as leveling the playing field for individuals with criminal convictions, New Mexico has passed legislation that prevents public employers from asking job applicants about their criminal background on the initial application for employment. SB-254, sponsored by state Senator Clint Harden, amends the New Mexico Criminal Offender Act and removes the question about felony convictions from the State Personnel Office application. Public employers will have to wait until the interview phase before raising the issue.

The intent is to prevent employers from immediately disqualifying a person with a conviction, even if the person is qualified. Harden said the bill does not prevent employers from asking about conviction status, nor does the bill prevent criminal background checks. “By delaying the inquiry on conviction history until the interview process, previously incarcerated persons will be on a level playing field with other candidates with similar qualifications.” Harden noted that the question on job applications can intimidate and discourage individuals who have been incarcerated from applying for jobs, even if they are qualified for the position.

Even though public employers have to wait beyond the initial application before inquiring about an applicant’s criminal background, SB-254 does not paint them into a corner. Under the state’s Criminal Offender Act, employers can deny anyone a position based on “moral turpitude,” which could include everything from drug dealing, to sex offenses, to other violent crimes. The Act is very clear about preventing people with child abuse or child-related sex offenses from working in any public childcare facility. There is also a special exemption for law enforcement agencies.

Will SB-254 have a positive impact on the employment of individuals with criminal backgrounds? Will the rejection of a job applicant with a criminal background be blatant, occurring during the face-to-face interview? Will private employers see this as something to emulate and delete the box asking about felony convictions from their applications?

SB-254 was signed by Governor Bill Richardson on March 8 and becomes effective on May 19, 2010.

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