Reference & Background Checks

Hiring Candidates with a Criminal History Is Becoming More Common

Ban the Box laws are gaining popularity across the nation, with the most recent law taking effect in Washington on June 7. The new law, Washington Fair Chance Act, prohibits private employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history, conducting a criminal background check, or otherwise obtaining information about an applicant’s criminal history until after the employer initially determines that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. 

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Like most Ban the Box laws, the intent behind them is to prevent employers from using a criminal record as an automatic bar to employment. However, a new survey is showing that hiring managers and Human Resources (HR) professionals are more open and willing to work with individuals who possess a criminal background than they have been in the past.

The survey examines how managers, HR professionals, and employees feel about hiring individuals with criminal records. Among the groupings, 74% of managers and 84% of HR professionals nationwide said they were willing or open to hiring individuals with a criminal record. Across all groups surveyed, over 80% said they were willing and open to working with individuals with criminal records. Only a small minority were unwilling to make the hire or work alongside these individuals.

“Workplaces are transforming quickly, and talent strategies must evolve along with them,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Organizations can no longer grow without tapping into the reservoirs of potential talent hidden in our communities. In many industries, accessing human capital is now harder than accessing financial capital, so it is a mistake to exclude vetted, qualified candidates because of their source.”

The survey was conducted by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) to better understand how people in the business community viewed hiring those with criminal records.

Key Survey Findings

Securing employment is a vital rung in the ladder of opportunity and essential to ensuring the success of individuals with a criminal record. Stable employment prevents these individuals from reoffending, making it a critical factor in reducing the recidivism rate. Business executives, HR professionals, and other employees can help break these individuals out of this cycle by considering this source of untapped talent for open roles and encouraging others to do the same.

“The key to reducing recidivism and improving public safety is finding employment for people. If individuals with a criminal record can be considered for employment based on their talent and skills, the benefits for the business—and society—are far-reaching,” says Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at CKI. “HR professionals are well positioned to provide counsel and generate a tailored set of best practice principles that will benefit both the business and the individuals seeking a second chance.”

Many managers and HR professionals are willing to hire and work alongside individuals with a criminal record.

  • When participants were asked how willing their coworkers would be to work with individuals with a criminal record 84% of managers were either neutral, willing, or very willing, while 88% of HR professionals said the same.
  • When asked how willing or unwilling they were to hire individuals with a criminal record, about two-thirds of managers and HR professionals said they were either neutral or willing to make the hire.
  • However, when asked about how willing or unwilling their coworkers were to hire those with criminal records, 36% of managers said willing or very willing, and 26% of HR professionals said the same.

Organizations have varied practices and approaches regarding communication on employing individuals with criminal records. When asked if their company or organization’s HR department communicated its policy, approach, or perspective on hiring individuals with criminal records:

  • Forty-three percent of HR professionals said yes, 43% said no, and 14% said they were not sure.
  • Thirty-six percent of managers said their policy was communicated to employees.

When asked if their company or organization’s senior leadership communicated to employees its policy, approach, or perspective on hiring individuals with criminal records, only 33% of HR professionals said leadership had communicated a policy. When asked if their company or organization had a formal or informal policy regarding hiring individuals with a criminal record:

  • Thirty-two percent of HR professionals said they had a formal policy. An equal number of HR managers said that they did not have a formal or informal policy.
  • Forty-two percent of managers thought their company did have a formal policy while 51% of nonmanagers were “not sure” whether their company had a policy, either formal or informal.

Benefits to Hiring Candidates with a Criminal History

However, there is a discrepancy among managers and nonmanagers surrounding the benefits and barriers around those hires. When asked if the company or organization where they work had hired individuals with criminal records, 66% of HR professionals said their organization or company had done so, while 39% of managers, and 17% of nonmanagers said the same.

When asked what the specific concerns that companies or organizations could have about hiring those with criminal records, managers felt the biggest barrier to hiring those with criminal records are how customers would react, with legal liability being a close second. Yet HR professionals and nonmanager employees appear to be much more worried about legal liability than managers.

Second Chances

There is disagreement between managers and nonmanagers about the reasons companies choose to hire those with criminal records:

  • While 50% of managers say that hiring the best candidate for the job regardless of criminal history is “very much” a factor, only 20% of nonmanagers agree.
  • While about 44% of managers believe that making the community a better place and giving individuals a second chance are important factors, 21% of nonmanagers agree that making the community a better place is very important and 30% of nonmanagers agree that it’s very important to consider giving people a second chance as a factor in their company’s process of hiring people with a criminal record.
  • While 43% of nonmanagers believe decisionmakers are incentivized by tax rebates or other government incentives, only 27% of managers agree.

Many organizations screen for criminal history, but a smaller group does that in the initial application. Seventy-three percent of organizations do check for criminal history during the hiring process; however, only 46% of organizations said they require job applicants to indicate their criminal history on the initial employment application.

It should be noted that enforcement guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that employers not ask about criminal convictions on job applications. During an interview, the information may be disclosed by a prospective employee, or it may be revealed in a background check.

According to the EEOC guidance, if an employer chooses to exclude an applicant because of a criminal conviction, the employer must be able to show that the exclusion is job-related and consistent with business necessity. One way to satisfy this requirement is to develop a targeted screen that takes into consideration the nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job.