What Employers Need to Know About Second Chance Hiring Policies

August 24, 2021 | Shannon Shoemaker

As employers struggle with finding qualified talent to fill their roles, there is an increased interest in hiring employees with a criminal history, also known as second chance hiring. Federal and state legislation has also changed whether or not employers can even ask job applicants about criminal history.

Nationwide, Washington, D.C., 36 states and over 150 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “Ban the Box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first—without the stigma of a conviction or arrest record. Ban the Box regulations restrict when an employer may ask a candidate about criminal history. Coverage usually applies where the applicant lives, although some cities defer to the applicant’s place of work.

Related: Evaluating Whether You Should Hire Candidates with Past Criminal Histories

New legislation is aimed at all employers within each state. In March, Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and David Trone, D-Md., introduced the Workforce Justice Act. It would give states three years to remove the question that asks job seekers to disclose criminal history from private-sector employment applications. The aim of the proposal is to provide job applicants with criminal records a better chance at competing in the labor market.

Studies show that people with criminal histories face very high unemployment rates and risk for recidivism. Up to 75% of people who were incarcerated remain unemployed one year after release, according to the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Second chance hiring also gives employers the opportunity to expand their talent pool at a time when good candidates are hard to find.

A 2018 study 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. 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.


Managing Risk and Reward for Second Chance Hiring


It’s crucial that employers approach hiring employees with a criminal history from a policy and procedural perspective. A criminal record isn’t always a red flag and it is possible to mitigate liability by having a clearly defined policy and the resources you need to make an informed hiring decision.

The most important factors to consider when looking at alternative groups to hire from like those with criminal records:

    • Identify and evaluate the types of offenses (for example, non-violent convictions, misdemeanors) your company is willing to consider.
    • Consider the length of time since the relevant conviction, as well as a candidate’s efforts for rehabilitation before and after release.
    • Involve your organization’s senior leadership team. Buy-in from senior leadership is imperative to the success of a second chance hiring program.
    • Prepare communication for commonly asked questions from employees, leadership and staff that a change in policy like this might bring.


Another factor in managing risk with second chance hiring policies is compliance. As mentioned previously, employers that use criminal records in their hiring decisions need to be aware of applicable federal and state laws—and those laws are in flux and changing rapidly. Your vendor partner can assist with the compliance side of this process, and do so within the guidelines of Ban the Box and other regulations.

Criminal background screening is essential to identify potential threats during the hiring process, and in the case of hiring candidates with select types of convictions, is necessary in order to determine if the candidate falls within the parameters set by you and your leadership team. Continuous criminal monitoring offers another layer of protection and can ease any concern from employees or stakeholders.


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