Would You Consider Hiring a Candidate with a Criminal Record?

Let’s say your company is hiring. Would you consider a candidate with a criminal record? If not, you’re not alone. As it turns out, employers are often reluctant to hire candidates with a criminal history for a number of reasons.

It should come as no surprise that businesses are concerned with the risk of being held liable for crimes ex-offenders may commit that could potentially harm employees, customers or the business. Behind the stigma associated with having a criminal record, businesses are also worried about protecting their public image and reputation. There are practical barriers, too—as ex-offenders may not have the education or skills employers are looking for, or may have parole-related commitments that make it difficult to maintain regular work hours.

On the flip side, there’s a wide range of reasons businesses may actively choose to look for and hire ex-offenders. In construction and manufacturing fields, for instance, ex-offenders can help meet the growing demand for hard-to-fill jobs. Other businesses highlight the importance of giving offenders a second chance, helping them rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society. Some organizations also view hiring ex-offenders as a way to give back to their local community. Plus, stable employment for ex-offenders reduces the likelihood they will commit additional crimes and potentially be re-arrested, which contributes to safer communities.

Many employers can reduce the risks associated with hiring ex-offenders by working with organizations that provide candidates with critical services and skills training to prepare them for full-time employment. It can be challenging—and not all ex-offenders are ready to make the transition—but a number of employers I’ve studied have praised their willingness to take on tough jobs. Hiring managers often spoke of the gratitude shown by ex-offenders they had hired, who these managers said often work as hard, or harder than other employees, as a way to show their appreciation for being given a second chance and to demonstrate their value to the organization.

If your organization doesn’t face restrictions due to licensing requirements and would like to consider hiring ex-offenders, a good starting place is examining your company’s current hiring practices. Think about removing questions from job applications that ask people whether they have a criminal record and the nature of the offense. These questions often lead to immediate screening or exclusion of ex-offender applicants before hiring managers can even consider other information related to experience and skills.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 30 U.S. states and more than 150 cities and counties have passed “Ban the Box” legislation that prevents businesses from including questions related to criminal history on job applications. Employers may still look into whether an individual has a criminal record later in the application process. Another step is to use information obtained from criminal background checks on a more individual basis, taking into account the seriousness of the crime and length of time since the crime was committed.

If your organization already employs ex-offenders, you can help decrease stigma by sharing your successes and challenges with others. Many firms I have spoken to would like to communicate more about their experiences hiring ex-offenders but don’t know how or where to start. Based in Portland, Ore., Dave’s Killer Bread is a recognized national leader in hiring and retention of ex-offenders. The company has hosted a series of “Second Chance Summits” that bring together organizations from business, government and nonprofit sectors with an interest in hiring ex-offenders. Any organization can register and consider sharing their stories at a future conference, or even take the pledge in support of changing perceptions and inspiring others to become second chance employers.

With the economy growing and unemployment at the lowest levels in years, companies that are having a tough time filling open positions, or even those looking to contribute to their local communities, all have an opportunity to expand their recruiting efforts to include candidates with a criminal record. While it’s not feasible for all organizations to consider employing ex-offenders, those that do may realize a variety of benefits—for the business, the individuals and their communities.

Jerry Goodstein, Ph.D., is a professor at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, teaching strategic management, organizational design, leadership and business ethics. Goodstein’s research interests have focused on organizational governance and strategic choices, and more recently, he has pursued research on a series of topics related to business ethics, including the practice of hiring ex-offenders.

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