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July 29, 2021

New Maine law removes a potential barrier on job applications: criminal history

File photo A law that takes effect in October will assist Maine job seekers with criminal records, by making them a later part of the hiring process.

A new state law will aid some Maine job seekers by prohibiting employers from requesting criminal history information on work applications.

The law, which takes effect in October, forbids information requests from being part of an initial application form and also bans statements on the application or job advertisement that a person with a criminal history will not be considered for the position. There's a penalty of up to $500 for each violation.

Enforced by the Department of Labor, the law does not prohibit employers from asking about criminal history during an interview. Making the subject a later part of the application process will give the chance for prospective employees to explain the circumstances of a conviction, including any following rehabilitation, according to proponents.

Removing barriers

There are exceptions to the rule, including instances in which federal or state regulations mandate that a criminal conviction or certain type of offense disqualify an applicant or requires that an employer conduct a criminal history record check, as is the case for employment in education and some health care positions.

“Simply put, this bill solves a nagging problem,” said Randall Liberty, Maine Department of Corrections commissioner, in testimony in favor of the legislation creating the law. “This bill removes one of the most impactful and challenging barriers toward employment.”

person outside
Randall Liberty, commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections

Liberty went on to say that there are many Maine inmates “deeply engaged with educational and vocational pursuits,” using their sentence “to prepare themselves to reenter as productive members” of the community, and sited the bill as a vote of confidence that the vocational programs MDOC offers will result in employment upon release.

One in six arrested

The law was proposed in a bill sponsored by state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and which was passed earlier this month.

More than one in six working-age Mainers have been arrested at least once in their life, said James Myall, policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy in testimony supporting the bill.

Myall sited a study published by the U.S. Department of Justice that found applicants for entry-level positions who reported a recent 18-month sentence for drug possession were half as likely as their peers to be hired without a record.

Maine will join 14 other states and 19 cities across the country that require both public and private employers to follow this rule. According to the National Employment Law Project, 36 states and more than 150 cities and counties are taking similar steps, part of a national “ban the box” movement.

Maine currently prohibits requesting criminal history from those seeking state employment. A similar ban-the-box policy exists for federal employers and employers that contract with the federal government.

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