CPA Profession Seeks Exemption from Ban on Questioning Job Applicants’ Criminal History

March 26, 2015

Criminal Record with magnifying glassEfforts to remove questions about criminal history from job applications are gaining traction across the country, but these well-meaning proposals present a unique challenge for CPAs and CPA firms that handle sensitive and confidential information. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is working with state CPA societies to ensure that any such plans include exemptions for the CPA profession.

“Ban the Box” proposals aim to reduce discrimination against reformed ex-offenders by prohibiting an employer from including a check box on job application forms asking potential employees about their criminal history. The National Employment Law Project reports that 13 states and over 90 cities and counties have already adopted such policies, and thus far in 2015, at least 27 states are reviewing 49 “Ban the Box” bills that would enact similar measures.

The “Ban the Box” proposals vary between jurisdictions. While some include appropriate exemptions for professions that handle sensitive information, others may pose serious threats to client confidentiality.

In Georgia, the governor recently issued an executive order that postpones questions about an applicant’s criminal history until the applicant has demonstrated they are one of the most qualified candidates. The order, however, includes exemption language for “sensitive governmental positions,” allows an applicant’s criminal history to be considered later in the hiring process, and only applies to applications for state government jobs.

On the other hand, proposed legislation in New Hampshire would require the state to engage only in business with contractors who adopt and employ policies consistent with the “Ban the Box” requirement – including CPA firms. The AICPA State Regulation and Legislation Team is helping state CPA societies and advocates fight against such measures, since trust, confidentiality, and the handling of highly-confidential tax and other personal materials are key to the CPA-client relationship.