BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
The Daytona Beach City Commission will be hearing a presentation on Feb. 18 on the social and economic benefits of passing an anti-workplace discrimination policy known as “Ban the Box.’’
The measure would remove the question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” from city job applications and allow all job seekers an equal opportunity during the interview process.
Forms of this legislation were passed in number of Florida cities, including St. Petersburg and Tallahassee. Passing the measure in Daytona will be a step toward statewide implementation.
“While the legislation being considered only applies to applicants seeking positions with the city, it will help set the standard for private employers,” Paul Heroux, a semi-retired small business owner and member of the Main Street Alliance of Florida, told the Daytona Times. “To fully eliminate discriminatory hiring practices, small business owners like me have joined the discussion and we will present our ideas to the city commission.
‘Gives people a chance’
Commissioner Patrick Henry has stated his support of the initiative.
“I want people to understand that ‘Ban the Box’ doesn’t mean we aren’t doing a background search. It just means that we won’t eliminate you from the start,” he explained.
“It gives people a chance. As it stands, people with convictions on their record will find that once they check that box, in the public or private sector, their application goes straight into the garbage.”
“They don’t have a chance. It’s used as an easy way to sort applications,” he continued. “But that is talent being thrown away that may be a mistake from 10 or 20 years ago.”
A felony record
Added Heroux, “When I became a person with a felony record, it became difficult to find a good paying job, or any job for that matter. I began working as a subcontractor in jobs where the skill I had was needed, regardless of background and, ultimately, I started my own handyman business.
“The National Employment Law Project estimates that each year over 700,000 people return to our communities from incarceration and many aren’t fortunate enough to have the skills and support from friends and family that I had.”
Heroux also is the founder of Organization for Florida Felons (O.F.F.).
“Before going into business for myself, I tried to find work in sales or an industrial field that could use my expertise,” he related. “But companies have applications, and applications ask, ‘Do you have a felony record?’ And those applications are read by company owners or human resource employees who don’t care about why I might answer ‘yes’ to that question. They only know that life might be simpler with an applicant who answered ‘no’.”
Missing out on talent
Bishop Derek Triplett, pastor of Hope Fellowship Church, also is urging community members to attend the Feb. 18 commission meeting.
“I wholeheartedly support it,” Triplett said in a phone interview on his way back from Tallahassee. He spoke with two Florida legislators on the topic Tuesday.
“As we deal with a talent-based economy, we are missing out on talent from people who have made mistakes earlier in their lives. There are talents in our community and that talent doesn’t always have a squeaky clean record.’’
Using Wal-Mart and Target as examples, Triplett says there are some corporations that already have adopted the practice of removing the question of conviction history from their application process.
“It has to be leveraged for the good of society,” he continued.
“They should be able to go and get certifications in order to take advantage of some of the opportunities out there. They should not be denied that.”
‘Hide our records’
Heroux explained that during his job search he may have been better qualified for a position than the other candidates.
“My felony record could have had absolutely no effect on my ability to do the job,” he shared. “My experience and background may have made me a perfect fit for the company and the people working there. But I marked ‘yes’ in that box about arrest and felony record, and they pushed my application to the side – so we’ll never know.
“I have heard people say that ‘Ban the Box’ legislation is an attempt by people like me to ‘hide’ our records and ‘sneak into a job’. So I ask them, If Pope Francis applied to a Burger King for a job here in America, do you think he’d be given a background check? Of course he would. So would Mother Theresa, Taylor Swift, or anyone else for that matter.
“Background checks are standard, and they make it impossible to hide your background,” Heroux continued. “I want ‘Ban the Box’ so that applicants can share their background with potential employers personally. They deserve to say who they are, what they’ve done, and what they’ve done about what they’ve done. If the employer is going to say ‘no’ to the applicant, I want the employer to know who and what he or she is saying ‘no’ to.”
‘Pave the way’
Heroux added that he believes many employers miss out on the best employees because of ‘arrest/felon’ questions on employment applications.
“I’m not looking to avoid that conversation. If an application engenders enough interest for an interview, the employer shouldn’t avoid that conversation either. I urge the city commission to vote in favor of ‘Ban the Box’ legislation and pave the way for cities and private businesses across Florida.”
Heroux concluded, “If you or a loved one have been affected by this type of workplace discrimination, I invite you to come out to tell your story and help Daytona lead the way on ‘Ban the Box.’ ”