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Is it fair for employers to use criminal background checks when hiring?

Results from a background check.
Results from a background check.
brettneilson/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

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City officials in San Francisco are considering a law that would prohibit private employers, landlords and city contractors from inquiring about the criminal history of applicants. In short, they could be doing away with background checks so commonly associated with the application process. If this comes to pass, San Francisco would be in league with Philadelphia, Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts in treating former criminals as a protected class. Of course, sex offenders and those with violent crime convictions would not be included. Do applicants with criminal history deserve such treatment? Would you feel safe knowing that a former criminal might be working alongside you? Would you hire someone with a past conviction?