Austin Becomes First Fair Chance Hiring City in the South

AUSTIN— On Thursday, March 24, the Austin City Council voted to approve a fair chance hiring ordinance for private employers in the City of Austin. The ordinance intends to give applicants a fair chance at employment by delaying inquiries into an applicant’s conviction history. This policy will apply to Austin employers with fifteen or more employees. Of the cities that have adopted fair chance hiring policies, Austin’s ordinance is one of the few that guarantees that a background check will only occur after a conditional job offer has been made.

“This policy is anti-discriminatory at heart—too many hardworking and qualified individuals in our community are unable to find employment because they are judged solely on their conviction history, rather than their potential,” said Council Member Greg Casar. “I believe that the right to compete for a job—without the boot of discrimination on your neck—and the right to demand a fair wage can make our economy truly strong. Not just for some, but for all.”

“We have an affordability crisis in Austin,” said Mayor Steve Adler. “Discriminating against those who have otherwise paid their debt to society prevents them from earning a decent living. This will increase access to opportunities that too many people have been shut out of for too long.”

This policy will not apply to positions for which federal, state, or local law disqualifies an individual based on conviction history. Austin joins six states (Massachusetts, Hawaii, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey), eleven cities and counties (including Baltimore; Buffalo; Chicago; Columbia, Missouri; Newark; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Seattle), and Washington, D.C. with fair chance hiring policies on the books for private employers.

The American Journal of Sociology reported that if hiring discrimination takes place, it is most likely to take place at the first interaction: the submission of a job application. One in three adults in Texas has a criminal record, and nearly 2,200 individuals released from Texas prisons will return to the Austin area each year. The National Employment Law Project provides extensive research and data finding that fair chance hiring practices are good for individuals, families, and communities, increases public safety, and contributes to a robust economy.

“When some members of our community don’t have access to economic opportunity, our entire city suffers,” said Council Member Casar. “Working-class people and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by our broken criminal justice system. The passage of this ordinance is a significant step forward for civil rights and racial justice in our community.”