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Job seekers with criminal histories learn about rights under law

NYC Commission on Human Rights Announces Citywide Enforcement Effort to Stop Discrimination

January 26, 2016 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: The HOPE Program Executive Director Jennifer Mitchell, Commissioner and Chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn P. Malalis and Community Service Society of New York President and Chief Executive Officer David Jones. Photo by Mariela Lombard for NYC Commission on Human Rights.
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On Monday, the NYC Commission on Human Rights, elected officials, clergy and advocates met with job seekers who have criminal histories at The HOPE Program in Brooklyn to inform them of their rights under the New York City Human Rights Law, including recently added criminal and credit history protections.

Commissioner and Chair of the NYC Commission on Human Rights Carmelyn P. Malalis, Councilmember Jumaane Williams, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, The HOPE Program Executive Director Jennifer Mitchell, National Employment Law Project Program Director Paul Sonn, Community Service Society of New York President and Chief Executive Officer David Jones, VOCAL-NY member Andre Centeno and Riverside Church Senior Minister Emeritus Rev. Dr. James Forbes were among those at the event.

Malalis announced that investigations into criminal history discrimination quadrupled in 2015, with 77 new investigations compared to 12 in 2014. Overall, employment discrimination-related investigations accounted for more than half of all new investigations opened at the Commission (or 53 percent) in 2015. 

“Every New Yorker deserves a fair chance at employment, regardless of their background,” said Malalis. “The job seekers we met today prove that those with barriers to employment deserve an opportunity at an economic future. The Commission aggressively investigates and prosecute[s] all employment discrimination complaints and work[s] with employers to ensure that everyone in New York City enjoys the same rights and opportunities under the law.”

The Fair Chance Act, which makes it illegal for both public and private employers in New York City to inquire about a job applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made, was added to the law in June and went into effect in October of 2015. In September, the Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment Act prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees and applicants on the basis of credit history went into effect. Together, these laws make New York City’s Human Rights Law one of the strongest in the nation for protecting workers against discrimination.

Two graduates of The HOPE Program — a Brooklyn-based group that empowers New Yorkers facing employment challenges through job training, placement and career advancement — spoke about how the Fair Chance Act helped them overcome barriers to employment. Alysha Lopac, 44, of Brooklyn, served three years in prison for a marijuana felony. Today, she is employed at a pet day care. 

“I’ve made some mistakes — haven’t we all — but I have so much to offer as an employee and a member of this community,” said Lopac. “Now, there’s one less barrier to me proving it. I’d like to thank the city for the Fair Chance Act.”

“When I was younger, I thought that criminal behavior was the way to live,” said HOPE graduate Clyde Williams, 59, of Brooklyn. “I was into guns and drugs. I’m not proud of any of it. I’m standing here today celebrating nearly a year of full-time employment with benefits at a leading food establishment. I’m excited about the Fair Chance Act. My felonies don’t hold me back in the workplace. I put everything I have into the job as though the restaurant were my own.”

While the Fair Chance Act is a well-meaning law and has helped some citizens with previous criminal histories get jobs, it still has room for improvement — namely in online applications — that the Commission on Human Rights must correct.

“The tricky thing is that employers never have to tell you why you don’t get a job,” Irene Branche, the chief development officer at The Hope Program told the Brooklyn Eagle. “With online job applications, it’s often a requirement to answer the criminal history section in order to even submit your application. So some of our students never get past the first stage and they never hear back from the job.”

The Commission is also working with business communities through workshops and one-on-one training sessions to ensure that employers understand their obligations under the law. The Commission has an ongoing collaboration with business associations like the Partnership for New York City, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders to ensure widespread compliance.

“The Fair Chance Act is one of the strongest Ban the Box laws in the nation,” said Williams.It ensures that all New Yorkers, including those with convictions for previous mistakes, have an equal opportunity to compete for jobs they qualify for.”

Under the Fair Chance Act, if the employer does not wish to hire a candidate based on criminal history after a conditional offer of employment has been made, the employer is required to provide the person with an analysis of the relationship between the person’s conviction record and the job, as well as a copy of the person’s criminal history considered by the employer. Employers are also required to keep the job open for three days to provide the candidate with an opportunity to respond to such information. To help businesses comply with the law, the Commission developed legal guidance, fact sheets and a Fair Chance Notice Form on which employers can perform the required analysis.

“The HOPE Program was founded over 30 years ago with a firm belief in second chances,” said Mitchell. “We empower New Yorkers facing multiple challenges through job training, placement and career advancement. When our graduates, particularly those who have been involved with the criminal justice system, secure meaningful employment, they build brighter futures for themselves and contribute to stronger communities.”

Exempted from the law are positions with public and private employers that require criminal background checks by law, along with several city positions, including those at the Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Correction and Department of Probation, as well as certain titles identified by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. 

Employers, job applicants and employees can visit the Commission’s website at www.nyc.gov/fairchancenyc to download a copy of the Fair Chance Notice Form, the Legal Enforcement Guidance and fact sheets for employers and potential or current employees. Also available is information about weekly events and instructions on how to file a complaint at the Commission.

If members of the public believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of a criminal history or credit, or are being asked for criminal or consumer credit history during the application process, they can call 311 and ask for the Commission on Human Rights to discuss their situation and set up a meeting with a Law Enforcement Bureau attorney.  

—Information from the NYC Commission on Human Rights

 


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