Updated: 12/31/2013 10:39 PM
Created: 12/31/2013 2:39 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
On Jan. 1, Minnesota will become just the third state to "Ban the Box." It's a law that forbids employers from asking whether someone has been convicted of a crime when they first apply for a job.
Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
That common job application question will soon be illegal in the state of Minnesota.
"Just because you check on a cold piece of paper that you have done something that really doesn't tell you the entirety of the story," said Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
Lindsey said "Ban the Box" will help all Minnesotans by reducing unemployment in high-crime communities, allowing those who make a mistake to make good.
"Unless those individuals have an opportunity to have a conversation with someone in an interview, they typically will not get hired," Lindsey said.
"It's a very significant development in Minnesota law," said Joe Schmitt, an employment lawyer with Nilan Johnson Lewis.
It's also a significant change for Minnesota businesses, according to Schmitt.
"Not that it's difficult per se, but it can be time consuming to make sure that all of the procedures are changed in order to comply with this new change in the law," Schmitt said.
Lindsey said the vast majority of businesses have already cleared that hurdle. But some still haven't updated their hiring procedures.
"There are still going to be people applying for jobs with employers who aren't in compliance, and that is worrisome," Schmitt said.
"They will typically be the employers that buy their application form 'off the shelf,'" Lindsey said.
But Lindsey said that's why the law was built with a tiered system of penalties -- the first, just a warning, and 30 days to bring hiring policies in line.
"Hopefully employers will soon bring themselves into compliance with the statute," Schmitt said.
"If an employer gets a warning and fails to comply after 30 days, they could face fines.
Employers can still conduct background checks, but only after an applicant has been interviewed or offered a job.
The state has been reaching out to employers about the new law for the past few months. Right now, officials are working on an online educational session which will be held on Jan. 23.