Sign Up Early for SB'24 San Diego and Save! Spring Rate Ends June 23rd.

Organizational Change
‘More Than a Background’ Campaign Highlights Challenges for Second-Chance Workers

The campaign from the Center for Employment Opportunities calls out the barriers justice-impacted people face in obtaining employment as a result of overreliance on background checks.

Today, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the US’s largest re-entry organization, launched “More Than a Background” (#MoreThanABackground) — a public-awareness campaign to limit the use of criminal background checks in the hiring process.

The campaign will use compelling imagery and personal storytelling of impacted people — along with interactive digital assets — to create greater public awareness of the challenges people with criminal records face when trying to obtain employment, regardless of their qualifications. The goal of the campaign is to shift the narrative to make people understand the inequities caused by the overreliance on background checks in the hiring process; encourage and educate employers on more equitable hiring practices; and seed the ground for future reforms.

“Everyone, regardless of their past, is More Than a Background,” said Sam Schaefer, Executive Director of the Center for Employment Opportunities. “Every individual has amazing attributes and identities that not only make them significant and unique but also make them exemplary workers. They are skilled, hardworking, they are mothers, advocates and so much more. Yet, sadly, because of the widespread overreliance on background checks in the employment process, they are diminished to checking a box that blocks them from accessing opportunities that they are more than qualified for.”

In recent years, a growing wave of companies — including Ben & Jerry’s, Chobani, Dave’s Killer Bread, Frontier Co-op, Greyston Bakery and US Rubber Recycling — have set the precedent that a checked box on a job application shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from earning a living; but this kind of thinking must inform hiring practices on a much larger scale to challenge the status quo.

As a national organization, CEO has seen firsthand the disparities in how workers with criminal backgrounds are treated in the hiring process. States and cities are increasingly addressing this problem by passing fair-chance laws that protect justice-impacted people, but more remains to be done.

Image credit: CEO

“It didn’t matter that I had 22 years of restaurant management skills. When I returned from prison in 2022, I couldn’t even get a call back … a foot in the door. I wasn’t given the opportunity to be evaluated fairly based on my qualifications,” said Marvin, a former CEO participant and Advocacy Leadership Committee member. “Today, I’m proud to say, I’ve taken this experience to become a fair-chance employer myself and am providing opportunities to others that are returning from prison and facing the same obstacles I did.”

Nationally, 94 percent of employers run background checks to screen applicants; and the lack of employment protections for formerly incarcerated people has resulted in them experiencing higher unemployment than any other population. In fact, according to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, roughly 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people were unemployed a year after being released; and 40 percent were still unemployed four years post-incarceration. And although more employers have expressed a willingness to hire people with criminal records, evidence shows that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50 percent.

Legislation has been introduced in California that would further limit the use of criminal background checks in the hiring process. CEO is a proud co-sponsor of California Senate Bill 1345 — the Just Access to Jobs Act — which seeks to improve upon ban-the-box reforms of 2017 by further limiting the use of background checks in the hiring process and providing more protection for employees with criminal records who face discrimination in the workplace. The bill comes on the heels of a Los Angeles County fair-chance ordinance passed in February 2024 that gives additional rights, protections and enforcement mechanisms for people with criminal history seeking employment. It not only applies to all private employers with five or more employees, it applies to Los Angeles County government — the largest local employer.

A workforce that provides opportunities for all workers is a workforce that values each person’s skills and experience, and recognizes that we are all more than a background check.

More information and personal stories can be found at