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Big Lots, Marshalls fined for ‘Ban the Box’ violations

Big Lots and Marshalls have agreed to pay penalties totaling $195,000 for violating a Buffalo law that prohibits employers from asking job candidates about their criminal history on their initial employment applications.

The settlement with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also includes an agreement by the two retailers to remove any inquiries about an applicant’s criminal record from the job applications that the companies use throughout New York.

The attorney general’s office said both Marshalls and Big Lots used standard applications that included inquiries about an applicant’s criminal record at their stores in Buffalo, where a local law bans companies from including that type of inquiry on initial applications.

So-called “Ban the Box” laws, like the one in Buffalo, are aimed at preventing applicants with criminal records from being immediately disqualified from jobs. The laws, which also are in place in New York City and Rochester, are aimed at forcing employers to consider an applicant’s qualifications first, and then allowing them to inquire about any criminal history in subsequent interviews and contact with the job candidate. Advocates believe that finding a job is a key step toward preventing people with criminal records from committing further crimes.

Big Lots agreed to pay a $100,000 fine, while Marshalls will pay a $95,000 penalty. Both retailers also agreed to step up their efforts to recruit applicants with criminal histories by working with an organization that has expertise in training workers who once were incarcerated.

“Qualified job applicants with prior convictions often find it difficult to get their foot in the door with prospective employers, denied even the opportunity to interview,” said Emily NaPier, the director of Justice Strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, which has an office in Buffalo.