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NYC’s Fair Chance Act in 2021- What You Should Know

Introduced in 2015, The Fair Chance Act banned questions on initial job applications seeking information about an applicant’s previous criminal conviction history. Similarly, it forbids employers from taking adverse action against employees based on a criminal conviction that doesn’t threaten the company’s safety. This extends over to independent contractors and freelancers as well.

The New York City Council has since amended the act to expand the scope of protection to include arrest histories. Additionally, employers must now use a two-step background check process. These amendments took effect on July 29, 2021.

Two-Step Background Check

New York City employers must first evaluate an applicant’s noncriminal information like:

  • Education
  • Employment references
  • Skills
  • Qualifications

This step must occur before they extend any conditional job offer. Once a conditional job offer is issued, employers can then request and evaluate an applicant’s criminal history.

Current Employees

The Fair Chance Act amendments now provide protections to current employees that have convictions occurring during employment. The act originally only covered applicants, but through recent amendments current employees are now covered as well. Employers cannot take adverse action against an employee based on a conviction. The exception is if the employer has determined and can prove that the conviction poses a safety risk for the company.

Fair Chance Act on a Federal Level

The Federal Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 will take effect in December of 2021. It prohibits federal agencies and contractors from seeking criminal history about an applicant before extending a conditional job offer. This does not include cases in which criminal background checks are legally required.

The only other two exceptions on a federal level for forbidding employers from seeking criminal history before making a conditional offer include:

  • If the position requires access to classified information/sensitive law enforcement and national security details.
  • If the position is specifically exempt by the administrator of general services or by the secretary of defense.

Additional Legislation for the Future

Introduced in March of 2021 The Workforce Justice Act  would give states three years to remove questions seeking criminal history from private sector employment applications.  This would take place on a national level. As a result, it aims to give an applicant with a criminal history a better chance at gaining employment.  Currently, 36 states have similar legislation already in place.

Compliance involves various moving parts and is a crucial part of operating a successful business. Employer’s should speak with a trusted professional to ensure your organization is not missing anything necessary to meet any of the standards set on a federal and local level.

How can Payroll Systems help you with workforce management? We offer a combination of software and human support for your business. Contact us to learn more about our highly scalable HR and payroll solutions.


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This article provides general information and shouldn’t be construed as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws may change over time and can vary by location and industry, please consult a lawyer or HR expert for advice specific to your business. You can also contact Payroll Systems to inquire about our HR support services.