Taking a bite out of Apple’s restrictive hiring policies

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Apple, maker of the iPhone and iPad, came under fire earlier this month when the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the company was prohibiting those convicted of a felony in the last 7 years from working on the construction of an enormous new corporate campus in Cupertino, California.  Under pressure from the iron workers union and advocates for fair hiring policies, the company quickly reversed course:

We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance. We have now removed that restriction and instructed our contractors on the project to evaluate all applicants equally, on a case-by-case basis, as we would for any role at Apple.

But many believe that Apple can do more to end employment discrimination against those with criminal records and can set an example for the tech industry and the country in the process.

The change in policy is certainly welcome. 12 million Americans have felony convictions in their past, and many of them are dependent on jobs in fields like construction where criminal background checks are not generally required of employees. The ACLU observed the significance of Apple’s move toward more inclusive employment practices on its Washington Markup blog last week:

As a multinational corporation, [Apple’s] support for fair-chance hiring carries huge symbolic value, as well as positively affecting the lives of real people who have done their time and seek to rebuild their lives as productive neighbors, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters.

However, in a recent blog post, former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous remained concerned that, “the company’s response leaves too many unanswered questions about the status of the fired workers, the contours of Apple’s internal policy, and the company’s commitment to ensuring that this will never happen again.” Apparently some of the employees fired for having felony records will be able to reapply for their jobs, but Iron Workers Local Union 377, which represents many of the disqualified workers and led the call for Apple to revise its policy, is not yet satisfied, saying in a statement:

While we appreciate Apple‘s stated commitment to “second chances,” we do not know and so are obliged to ask what are the criteria for the “case by case basis” on which Apple will now evaluate workers. We fully understand Apple‘s legitimate needs for security, but we believe strongly that there must be a nexus between those needs and any criteria for evaluation and possible exclusion of workers.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission appears to agree with the union’s position.  According to EEOC enforcement guidelines, employers that bar those with criminal records from employment may be subject to liability under Title VII the federal Civil Rights Act unless such bars are “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” The guidelines also require an individualized assessment of each candidate based on a number of factors including the circumstances of the offense and evidence of subsequent good character and rehabilitation. As it stands now, how the criminal records of new applicants and previously dismissed employees will factor into the case-by-case evaluation Apple now supports is anybody’s guess.

Many, including the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the ACLU, and Jealous, want to see Apple implement transparent company-wide fair-chance hiring practices consistent with EEOC guidelines, including banning the box.  In a recent op-ed piece in the Mercury News, NELP’s Michelle Natividad Rodriguez writes:

If Apple’s commitment to “second chances” is genuine, then it should become a vocal corporate leader in the national movement for “fair chance” hiring reform, which has been adopted in 15 states and more than 100 cities and counties.

One component of “fair chance” is to remove the check-box that asks about convictions and to delay any background-check screening. Too often employers discard job seekers who’ve checked the box, regardless of qualifications, job-relatedness of the conviction, or rehabilitation.
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Just as Apple has pledged to maintain labor and human rights standards with its supplier chain, it should ensure that its subcontractors, including in construction, adopt fair hiring practices.

She also urges Apple, as a major federal contractor, to take a leading role in the campaign to implement fair-chance hiring in the public sector:

Apple should also join the nearly 200 organizations and prominent individuals calling on President Barack Obama to take immediate executive action to ensure that federal agencies and contractors remove unnecessary barriers to employment for qualified job candidates with past records. As a major federal contractor, Apple can pave the way for other employers. The federal initiative will translate into real opportunities, as nearly one in four U.S. workers is employed either by a federal contractor, a subcontractor or the federal government.

 

You can find the full stories referenced above at the following links:

ACLU: Apple Made the Right Call on Fair-Hiring Practices. Uncle Sam Should Follow Its Lead.

Benjamin Jealous & Heather Warnken: Apple’s Teachable Moment

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez: Apple Computer hiring: Commitment to second chances for felons still unclear  

Joshua Gaines

Josh is a North Carolina-based attorney and the CCRC's Deputy Director. After graduating from American University in 2012, he worked on the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction (NICCC), and various other projects dealing with collateral consequences, rights restoration, and reentry.

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