Excerpted from a Courthouse News Service story by Rox Laird

An Iowa business association claims a Waterloo city ordinance protecting job applicants with criminal records conflicts with state law.

An Iowa city’s ordinance that initially bars employers from checking job applicants’ criminal records should be struck down because it conflicts with state and federal law, an Iowa business group told the state’s high court last week.

The Waterloo City Council passed the ordinance in 2019 inspired by the “Ban the Box” movement that protects job applicants from being denied jobs based on their criminal records, which most directly impacts members of minority groups. Waterloo has the highest percentage of African Americans of any city in Iowa, and Blacks make up 40% to 60% of inmates at the Black Hawk County Jail at any given time.

The ordinance provides that an employer cannot include a criminal record inquiry on an employment application – the “box” asking if the applicant has been charged or convicted of a crime. Also, an employer with more than 15 workers cannot inquire about an applicant’s criminal history during the initial hiring process prior to a conditional offer of employment.

Nor can those employers make “any adverse hiring decision based upon the following: (1) the applicant’s arrest/criminal history which has not resulted in a conviction; (2) criminal records or convictions which have been expunged or legally nullified; and (3) criminal records or convictions without a legitimate business reason.”

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry, or ABI, the state’s largest statewide business organization with more than 1,500 member companies representing 330,000 workers, sued the city of Waterloo and its Commission on Human Rights, arguing that the city’s ordinance runs afoul of a state law enacted in 2017.

That law says that “a city shall not adopt, enforce, or otherwise administer an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment providing for any terms or conditions of employment that exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law relating to a minimum or living wage rate, any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms or conditions of employment.”

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