Banning Criminal Background Checks and the Law of Unintended Consequences

It’s a truism that any law with more than 15 words contains at least one loophole. This is a lesson liberals seem incapable of learning. They doggedly pass laws intended to benefit favored constituencies but which in practice accomplish the polar opposite.

Unlike sheep, people have free will. They change their behavior to adapt to changed circumstances. Thus, when tax increases or new mandates affect their pocketbooks, they find workarounds. This often means that the intended beneficiaries of liberals’ largesse are worse off than at the status quo ante.

In December, the City of Philadelphia amended the Fair Criminal Screening Standards Ordinance, also known as Ban the Box, on background checks for employment with the City and with public and private businesses.   

The Ordinance prohibits City agencies and private employers with at least one employee from inquiring about criminal background and arrests on the application for a position. The employer may perform a background check following a conditional offer of employment.

Should a background check reveal a criminal conviction within the last seven years (excluding periods of incarceration), the employer must consider the nature of the crime, the time that has passed since the offense and the duties of the job when determining whether to offer a job.

To a skeptic, the Ordinance might alternatively be called the Philadelphia Anti-discrimination Lawyers’ Full Employment and Early Retirement Ordinance.

However, because the Ordinance contains more than 15 words, there is at least one loophole.

In a call to a local talk radio show, a Philadelphia business owner confided that his workaround is to immediately trash the application of anyone with gaps in his or her employment. When asked by the radio host whether the practice risks losing qualified employees, the caller said that the greater risk was to invite trouble. People adapt.  

The unintended consequence of the well intended Ordinance is that applicants with checkered pasts are now less likely to have an opportunity to make their case for a fresh start to a prospective employer.    

A collateral consequence is that because the majority of applicants with criminal histories will likely gravitate to City rolls, visitors, residents, and City employees alike, especially women,  can rest easy in knowing that the City of Brotherly Love is giving violent criminals and substance abusers a second chance to work and play in their midst.  

The Law of Unintended Consequences is inviolate.  

If you experience technical problems, please write to