‘Ban the Box’ procedure adopted for City of Sarasota hiring

Applicant’s criminal history to be considered at the end of the process, city announces        

Sarasota City Hall is on First Street in downtown Sarasota. File photo
Sarasota City Hall is on First Street in downtown Sarasota. File photo

The City of Sarasota no longer will inquire about a person’s criminal history during the initial part of a job application process, the city has announced.

City staff voluntarily has removed the box on the employment application where applicants were asked about criminal convictions, the city has announced. Such information will be considered at the end of the process, a news release explains. “This action makes the City of Sarasota the most recent municipality to join a movement across the United States known as ‘Ban the Box,’” the release points out.

No state or federal law requires such action at this time, “which makes the initiative by the city very forward-thinking,” the release adds.

“This is a progressive step for the City of Sarasota,” said Mayor Willie Shaw, who broached the discussion that led to banning the box on the city’s job application, the release notes. “Too many qualified individuals have been eliminated from the city’s hiring process because they had to check that box,” he added in the release. “This is the right thing to do and I’m proud we as a city have stepped up and changed our policy.”

The Ban the Box movement started in 2012 following the release of a guideline from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) designed to ensure job applicants with the same criminal background were not treated differently because of race, religion, gender or national origin, the release points out.

“We’ve removed a potential barrier for some job applicants,” said City Manager Tom Barwin in the release. “By banning the box, we’re becoming more inclusive and expanding the pool of qualified candidates. When individuals have paid their dues, past mistakes should not cost them good employment opportunities throughout their entire lives,” Barwin added in the release. “I applaud Mayor Shaw and the entire City Commission for taking the lead on this important social and economic issue.”

Other Florida cities that have banned the box are Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Clearwater, along with Pinellas County, the release says.

Mayor Willie Shaw. File photo
Mayor Willie Shaw. File photo

In Sarasota, pre-employment background screenings will continue, the release notes. City staff will conduct position-related criminal background checks, search driving records and, if applicable, review individuals’ credit reports, the release continues. “That information, though, will be considered toward the final phase of the selection process, as candidates and their skills become known,” the release adds, with the skills remaining the top priority.

EEOC hiring guidelines, followed by the City of Sarasota, identify three factors to be considered when determining whether criminal history information is related to the position applied for:

  • Nature and gravity of offense or conduct.
  • Time that has passed since the offense or conduct and/or completion of sentence.
  • Nature of the job sought.

“If a qualified candidate surfaces and that person has a criminal record, those three factors will be our guide to make determinations on hiring eligibility and proper fit in our workplace,” said Stacie Mason, the city’s human resources director, in the release.

Designated positions, including those involving recreation and those in the Sarasota Police Department, will continue to entail a fingerprinting background check, the release notes. “Legal requirements prevent employment in these positions for designated criminal convictions,” it adds.

While the Ban the Box initiative took effect on May 1 in Sarasota, the release notes, consideration of applicants for some positions that were open prior to that date will continue under the previous process.