An Employer’s Guide to Hiring Staff with A Criminal History

January 15, 2019 | Shannon Shoemaker

As the regulations tighten around screening candidates who have been previously incarcerated and as employers look for ways to find good talent, a growing number of employers are hiring employees with a criminal history. Nationwide, 33 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “Ban the Box”, which requires employers to consider a job candidate’s qualifications first—without the stigma of a conviction or arrest record. The policy removes the conviction history question from job applications and delays background checks until later in the hiring process.

“Ban the Box ensures that previously incarcerated individuals have a fair chance of getting to an interview stage to demonstrate whether he or she is the best candidate for the job,” says Cisive’s Chief Compliance and Data Protection Officer, Vice President, and Corporate Secretary Bruce Berger. “Employers must still take responsibility to ensure that they will only consider convictions that might be relevant to the position to be filled and that evidence of rehabilitation is considered at the time since conviction or release from incarceration.”

Leading Ban the Box Initiatives

Nonprofits like Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, specifically from the work of its All of Us or None project, have led Ban the Box initiatives across the country to provide applicants a fair chance at employment by removing the conviction history question from job applications and delaying background checks until later in the hiring process.

California-based nonprofit Pacific Reentry Career Services was founded by Stephanie Hammerwold and Timothy Pershing with the goal of reducing recidivism by helping the formerly incarcerated gain employment and therefore maintain a stable life outside of jail or prison. Pacific Reentry Career Services is supported by OneOC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) created the Employer-Driven Model (EDM), which outlines strategies for developing employment opportunities for those formerly incarcerated. Pacific Reentry Career Services uses this model as the foundation for its practices via direct client services, inter-agency networking and employer outreach. Hammerwold talks about working in HR before Ban the Box regulations: “Despite having served their time, many were faced with being barred from services, housing and employment because of their records. Without a stable income, many ran the risk of recidivating,” she said, adding “Why do we set up a system where people are continually punished for mistakes in the past even though they have already served their time?“

How Verification Can Support Ban the Box

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nearly one-third of the adult population has a criminal record. If an employer decides to avoid hiring those with records, that’s a huge percentage of the talent pool that will not even be considered. Rather than outright dismissing a candidate because of a criminal record, employers would be better off considering the whole candidate and seeing them as more than just their convictions.

A 2018 study commissioned by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) finds that, while candidates with criminal records do face additional scrutiny during the hiring process, many employees, managers, and HR professionals are open to working with and hiring people with criminal histories. In fact, more than 80% of managers and two-thirds of HR professionals feel that the value workers with criminal records bring to the organization is as high as or higher than that of workers without records.

That said, employers must still consider the liability and compliance side of hiring employees with criminal records. Having a thorough interview process that applies to all candidates, whether or not they have a criminal history, ensures that your company has the information you need to make an informed hiring decision. Additionally, verifying rehabilitation and research is critical. It’s important to consider the length of time since the relevant conviction, as well as inquire into candidates’ efforts to move beyond the experience and improve their lives.

Your screening provider  can assist with the compliance side of this process, and do so within the guidelines of Ban the Box and FCRA regulations.

The Benefits of Hiring Employees with a Criminal History 

In our current talent marketplace, the obvious benefit is broadening your talent pool. Eliminating one-third of the adult population with criminal histories means that you’re overlooking candidates who have been rehabilitated and have great on-the-job potential. At a time when unemployment nears a record low, many employers are finding that they need to consider new sources of workers. For many organizations, individuals with criminal records can be a good source of untapped talent.

A criminal record isn’t always a red flag. “Once someone has served their time, they should not be continually punished. We need to be a culture of second chances,” Hammerwold says. She adds, “given that a steady job can be a gateway to success for many upon release from jail or prison, employers should be on the frontline of giving people a second chance. Employers also get the benefit of a large pool of candidates who are often overlooked despite the fact that they could grow to be superstar employees.”

Additionally, employers who hire those with records can also take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Federal Bonding Program, which is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor and offers bonds that cover the first six months of employment for at-risk and hard-to-place job seekers. You can visit the National HIRE Network to see if your state offers additional programs.

Finally, every company must decide if and how to handle hiring workers with criminal records. In many cases, these important conversations have not yet taken place. Employers who choose to pursue this talent source must understand how to manage both real and perceived risks of this hiring practice and communicate their policies and practices to employees and applicants.

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