It's not a new initiative, but the "ban the box" campaign is picking up steam again, as additional jurisdictions around the country consider taking action. If you're not aware, "ban the box" refers to the box job applicants often have to check admitting if they have past convictions or criminal offenses.  

To date, more than 60 cities have made it illegal to ask the question and many more are considering taking action.  It can be a key issue, especially as unemployment rates tick down, and jobs become harder to fill. Over 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record--that's a great deal of applicants to eliminate right off the bat from the pipeline.

Regardless of how you personally feel about "ban the box," there are key lessons for any HR or recruiting professional. Too often, it's easy to get mired in your work--heads down and focused on the task at hand.  We leave the politics and legal issues to our leaders and lawyers. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't get involved or understand when our companies take (or don't take) action.

Initiatives like 'ban the box," are important because if the media is paying attention, candidates and our internal stakeholders will too. And that means we need to understand what's going on. This applies to many areas in the news--from parental rights to immigration. 

Here's what you can learn from the popularity of key issues:

1) Know your local laws

There are often vast differences between Federal and state employment and workforce-related laws (just ask any HR professional in California.) No matter where you live or have worked before, be sure you're aware of the laws that govern the workplaces you support (which may be across the United States or the world.) 

2) Revisit your hiring process

Ask any recruiter when the last time he applied for a job at his own company, and you could be met with a blank stare. This extends to hiring managers and leaders too. Take a minute to go through your own company's hiring process. Where are the red flags for you? What would you have questions on if you were starting your application with the company today? It helps to have a sense of the issues potential hires may raise so you can be prepared.

3) Learn your company's stance

In the case of "ban the box", candidates may see it on the news or read about it and be prompted to ask what your policy is on hiring employees with criminal records--from minor to serious to expunged offenses.  You need to know your company's position on this and other major HR issues and any role you might have in influencing, refining or communicating about them.  It's also important to understand the stance the company takes. For example, let's say your company has decided not to hire anyone who needs a work visa. Ask why so you're not left frustrated and wondering. There may be larger company issues at hand.

4) Understand and share talking points

Don't wait until a recruiter says the wrong thing or a talent acquisition professional responds inappropriately to an issue-related question on social media. Know what your company's talking points are on these issues, how to answer key questions candidates may ask and who is permitted to address these issues in public forums. Train recruiters and hiring managers and make sure they have easy access to updates and changes via an FAQ or an easy-to-access resource.

Too often recruiters, employer brand practitioners and hiring managers aren't aware of a company's stance on tricky HR issues and laws.  At the very least, take the time to understand what's happening, what your company position is and make sure your recruiting teams are well prepared.

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