Employment Issues in Columbia, MO

COLUMBIA, Mo – Some residents of Columbia are still having trouble finding employment after the Columbia City Council unanimously approved an ordinance in 2014 that encourages employers to not automatically ban job seekers with a criminal history from employment.

According to the National Employment Law Project, over 150 counties and cities and 26 states have implemented ban the box legislations. Columbia is one of those cities.

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Ban the box laws require employers to take questions about an applicant’s criminal history off of applications.

“Ban the box is a new ordinance in Columbia and a lot of other counties are looking to go to that as well,” Chris Baker, operations manager at Job Finders Employment Services said. “Right now when someone comes in for employment we have no idea what their background is. We are looking at them based off of their qualifications and work history only.”

Columbia resident David Robinson believes that he is having trouble finding employment because some employers are not following the ban the box laws.

“They are running background checks regardless of the box,” Robinson said. “Anybody can find out anything about anybody and it didn’t used to be that way.”

Robinson has a criminal history and is trying to find employment in real estate mortgages and financial security, but he cannot acquire a valid driver’s license.

“I’m trying to find a job in security finance. They would give me a job, probably, but I need a valid driver’s license to be able to go to the bank,” Robinson said.

Veterans United Home Loans, one of the top employers in Columbia, looks at a job applicant’s qualifications first, which they are supposed to do under the ban the box laws. They do not look at applicant’s criminal records until after they have given them the initial job offer. They use a third party vendor called Employment Screening Resources to get their hands on criminal records.

“The offer is contingent upon the background check and credit check, so at that point we look at every piece of information that we get back and just see if there are any red flags that show up and take that on a case-by-case basis,” Emily Clapp, manager of human resources programs for Veterans United Home Loans said.

Policy reforms or “fair-chance” laws, which includes ban the box, restrict access to certain criminal record information from employers and also provide applicants the chance to explain their criminal records to employers.

“There are cases where background checks can be inaccurate because state recordings can be inaccurate,” Clapp said. “We always give them the opportunity to look over and respond to what we found on their background check. After they respond we decide whether or not to continue.”

Social media checks are also a popular type of background checks done by some employers. The City of Columbia, another top employer in Columbia, does not look at applicant’s social media accounts because of the ban the box laws.

“We are not allowed to look at any social media because of a policy of ours because of ban the box,” Jessica Harris, human resources coordinator for the City of Columbia said.

According to the Columbia Code of Ordinances, anyone who violates any provision of the ban the box laws will be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and will, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of no more than $1,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or by both fine and imprisonment.