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San Francisco enacts Fair Chance Ordinance to Ban the Box on job applications

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee has signed into law the Fair Chance Ordinance that requires private employers in the city with 20 or more employees to limit the use of criminal background checks when hiring.

Under the Fair Chance Ordinance – which also affects certain contractors and affordable housing providers – employers must ‘Ban the Box’ and cannot include questions about convictions on job applications.

In addition, employers may not conduct a criminal background check until determining that the job applicant’s qualifications meet the requirements for the position. However, employers may search the conviction history of job applicants after the first live interview.

Introduced by Supervisors Jane Kim (District 6) and Malia Cohen (District 10), the Fair Chance Ordinance was unanimously passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before Governor Lee signed the legislation.

As for penalties, first violations during the initial year will result in warnings and notices to correct while second violations will result in a $50 administrative penalty for each employee or applicant that would increase to $100 per employee or applicant violation.

The Fair Chance Ordinance takes effect 30 days after its signing date of February 17, 2014 and is operative in 180 days.

The ‘Ban the Box’ movement – a reference to the check box asking about criminal records on job applications – has spread to more than 50 U.S. cities and ten states, according to a Resource Guide from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

In October 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) to ‘Ban the Box’ for state government jobs.

A study from NELP titled ‘65 Million Need Not Apply’ estimated that 27.8 percent of the U.S. adult population – more than one in four – had a criminal record for either an arrest or a conviction.

A legislative fact sheet about the Fair Chance Ordinance is available at

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