Should Your Organization Hire an Individual With a Criminal Record?

Employers may feel hesitant in hiring an individual with a criminal record. It’s understandable. In all likelihood, it’s probably due to the stigma and perception that criminals are more likely to be unreliable and commit an act of misconduct. But, much research on the employment of people with criminal histories shows that this is not true.

According to a study by Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts on enrollment in the U.S. military, ex-felons were no more likely to be fired for misconduct or poor performance than enlistees without criminal records.

In fact, you may find that hiring someone with a criminal record has many benefits:


1) High productivity

Some studies have shown that ex-felons work harder than other employees. For example, Canadian Big Data firm, Evolv revealed that workers with criminal records are 1 to 1.5% more productive than those without criminal records. Evolv found that this extra level of productivity could lead to tens of millions of dollars in increased profit for employers.


2) High engagement

Individuals with criminal histories are also determined to succeed and work to the best of their ability. This makes them highly engaged employees and drives them to produce high-quality work. A recent study revealed that 82% of managers and 67% of HR professionals believe that employees with a criminal record bring just as much or more value than those without a criminal record. These individuals’ life experiences often enable them to offer a unique perspective, and many boast creative problem-solving skills. They may also have recently acquired other skills from the training provided by prisons, reentry services, or diversion programs.


3) Lower turnover costs

Individuals with criminal pasts are less likely to quit their jobs, which can save you a considerable amount in turnover costs. Many ex-felons are more likely to stay because they feel grateful to employers who gave them a second chance. They’re often desperate to escape their criminal past and generate a secure income for themselves and their families. Often, they wish to become productive members of society and just need the opportunity to do so.


4) Eligibility for tax credits

Hiring a candidate with a criminal record can also render you eligible for tax and monetary benefits. These include Federal Work Opportunity Tax Credits, training funds, and partial wage reimbursements. You can also apply for fidelity bonds funded by the federal government to protect you against employee dishonesty or theft.


Why you should consider employing candidates with criminal records

Aside from the benefits above, hiring individuals with a criminal record gives you a chance to address some of America’s social system problems. Barring ex-felons from employment can have adverse consequences for individuals themselves, their families, and society.
By denying formerly incarcerated individuals from gainful employment, they will be unable to earn an honest living. They’re more likely to re-offend and go back to prison when unable to find legal employment opportunities. This can lead to endless cycles of recidivism that drain government resources and make communities less safe.

Another important reason is that it can improve your employer brand. Although recent surveys show that employers are increasingly willing to take on candidates with criminal records, very few are proactive in recruiting them. For example, research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) revealed that only a third of HR professionals believe that their company has a formal policy on hiring people with criminal records. They also found that only 5% of managers and 3% of HR professionals think their company actively recruits people with past convictions.

So, embedding recruitment of formerly incarcerated individuals in your HR policies represents a considerable opportunity to stand out, create a pipeline of a previously untapped source of talent, and build a stronger, more diverse workforce.


Best practices in hiring candidates with criminal records

Comply with ‘Ban the Box’ and ‘Second Chance’ laws

While performing background checks is a best practice, it’s unlawful for employers to disqualify candidates with a criminal record automatically. Ban the Box laws exist in 34 states and prohibits questions relating to a candidate’s criminal record on applications and during the interview. Ban the Box laws vary from state to state. They may include other obligations such as ensuring that language used in job advertisements does not exclude candidates with criminal records.

Many states also have Second Chance or Fair Chance laws designed to minimize the impact of past convictions for felonies. These laws include the right of individuals to apply for their criminal records to be expunged for certain offenses after a specified amount of time. Train your HR professionals about the relevant state, federal, and local laws to ensure compliance with second chance legislation.


Develop a fair and compliant background screening process

Begin with a formal written policy relating to decisions on criminal record disqualifications. Also, make sure the application, interview, and background screening process are transparent and straightforward. This way, you will evaluate all potential employees consistently and fairly.

Conduct background checks after the application and interview process. That way, you consider the candidate’s qualifications and experience before looking at their criminal record. Don’t forget; all background checks must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). This act requires you to provide candidates the opportunity to review and challenge the results of the background report before rejecting their application. To comply with the FCRA, you need to take the following steps:

  • Obtain the candidate’s written permission to conduct a background check
  • Let the applicant know you may use the information gathered from the background check for employment decisions
  • Allow the candidate to challenge the findings of the background report and to present any proof of positive change

Additionally, comply with any local or state laws outlining a specific adverse action process separate from the FCRA.


Establish an individualized assessment process

Having an individualized assessment process is essential as it allows you to assess each candidate on their own merits. It also allows you to stay compliant with applicable local, state, and federal laws. It also helps you to understand the circumstances that led to the criminal conviction. The assessment process involves evaluating factors, such as:

  • The type and seriousness of the conviction
  • How much time has elapsed since the conviction
  • The number of convictions on the record
  • The candidate’s age at the time of the conviction
  • The facts or circumstances surrounding the conviction
  • How the conviction impacts the person’s ability to carry out the role
  • If the individual would pose an unreasonable risk to the workplace
  • Evidence of rehabilitation efforts

Incorporate diversity, equality, and inclusion in the recruitment process

Inequalities exist between white people and people of color who have criminal records. For example, research revealed that 17% of White Americans get called back after a job interview, compared to only 5% of Black Americans with the same history. So, you need to treat all candidates with criminal records equally, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. By doing so, you build a just, equitable, and diverse workplace and comply with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Include the hiring of ex-felons in your overall recruitment strategy

Incorporating the recruitment of formerly incarcerated individuals in your HR practices and policies helps you build a constant diverse talent pipeline and create a competitive advantage. You can achieve this by following three key steps:

  1. Bring in HR to create an effective hiring and onboarding process for candidates with criminal records
  2. Involve your legal team to manage compliance and risk
  3. Gain the support of senior leadership


Final thoughts

Lastly, consider connecting with community-based organizations to get expertise in workforce development and reentry and source talent with criminal records. They can help you conduct skills-based interviews. This will allow you to assess candidates’ transferable skills and willingness to learn rather than experience in a similar role. This is a more practical approach as candidates are likely to have long employment gaps because of their incarceration. The important part is that you’ve considered the benefits of hiring previously incarcerated individuals and made the best decision for your company and its culture.


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