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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Cohen

Hiring Someone with a Criminal Record: Key Considerations

If recent history has shown us anything, it’s that people with a criminal record generally have a tough time getting hired.

This isn’t always fair. Chronic unemployment presents a number of social challenges. The consequences are far-reaching—including among the formerly-incarcerated.

But what’s the answer? A Jobs for the Future report from July 2015 revealed that 95% of almost 2 million Americans behind bars will be released at some point. Gainful, lawful employment is key to helping members of this community reduce their risk of recidivism.

And ultimately, a criminal record is just one—albeit an important—part of a person’s background.

This article will examine the pros and cons of hiring someone with a criminal record.

Pros of Hiring Someone with a Criminal Record

Employers must prioritize the safety of their team, patrons, and community. If you come across an appealing candidate and wish to move forward despite their criminal history, you’re well within your right to do so—so long as you aren’t putting anyone at undue risk.

Here are some of the benefits of hiring workers with a criminal background:

  • Loyalty

Employees with a criminal history are less likely to give notice and leave for a different role. They are typically loyal to their employers, work very hard, and inspire the same thing in their colleagues.

  • Compliance

Turning down a qualified candidate simply because they have a criminal history can cause problems. (We’ll discuss this in more detail shortly.) Discrimination can lead to a number of legal consequences.

  • Diversity

Offering work to candidates with a criminal history will give your company a new and compelling perspective. This is a great pillar you might add to your company’s diversity & inclusion (D&I) efforts.

Cons of Hiring Someone with a Criminal Record

While working with team members who have a criminal background can be wonderful, hiring them can be tricky in some cases. Here are some of the risks involved in hiring workers with a criminal record:

  • Potential danger

Some—but not all—criminals can bring danger into the workplace. It’s essential that employers pay close attention to behaviors that could pose a problem. In short, don’t ignore serious red flags.

  • Risk of recidivism

People with a criminal background face a risk of recidivism, or relapse. It’s worth noting that Michigan’s recidivism rate is just 28.1%. This is the lowest it has ever been (and one of the lowest rates in the U.S.).

Tips for Hiring Someone with a Criminal Background

Consider the following tips and insights if you’re thinking of hiring someone with a criminal history:

  • Ask the candidate for an explanation of what took place.

Gently ask the candidate about their criminal background during their interview. Look for signs of remorse and reflection. If the candidate expresses regret for their past actions—if they’ve completed a rehabilitation program and tried to turn their life around—you can likely feel good about hiring them.

  • Think about the nature of the crime.

A violent criminal history presents potential problems employers will almost certainly want to avoid (though there are some exceptions). Similarly, crimes that seem relevant to the job—an embezzlement conviction when you’re hiring for a financial position, for example—are a serious red flag.

  • Evaluate how long it’s been since the conviction.

If the crime occurred years or decades ago, it’s quite possible the candidate has learned from their mistake. Pay close attention to the amount of time that’s passed since the applicant committed the crime, and make your hiring decision accordingly (though there are other factors that should weigh in as well).

  • Pay close attention to the applicant’s behavior.

The interview is a vital component of the hiring process—especially when considering applicants with a criminal past. See whether the applicant is kind and respectful to you and other people they interact with. Consider how polite they are, how genuine they seem, and whether they appear to be speaking honestly.

  • Determine how you can offer support.

This is a crucial part of hiring someone with a criminal background. If you extend an offer to a candidate who has been convicted of a crime, ask them whether there’s anything you can do to make their experience more comfortable. This simple overture can bring peace of mind to both parties.

Legal Considerations When Hiring Someone with a Criminal History

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) urges employers to be cautious when using arrest and conviction records to make employment decisions.

The most recent Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions (under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) indicates that convictions should be weighed against a number of other factors—most notably the candidate’s qualifications.

And while federal law does not prevent hiring managers from running background checks or looking into an applicant’s past arrests, employers cannot make discriminatory decisions. Stakeholders should note that certain specific, detailed questions could in fact violate Title VII.

Here are the legal limitations employers must consider:

  • Employers may not treat people with comparable criminal histories differently based on protected characteristics like race, nationality, sex, and religion. (In other words, the applicant’s criminal history cannot be used to mask a discriminatory hiring decision.)

  • Employers may not screen applicants in a way that “significantly disadvantages” those protected under Title VII.

  • Employers may not screen applicants with a criminal background in a manner that does not consider others’ safety.

  • Employers may not make hiring decisions based on a candidate’s arrest records alone. (This is because arrest records do not serve as proof that the applicant engaged in criminal activity).

Legal compliance is key. The following section will outline what that means.

Spotlight on Compliance

Employers who intend to acquire information about a job applicant’s criminal history from a consumer reporting agency must follow the guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). These guidelines help protect the rights of the applicant and include:

  • Disclosing the request in a separate written document.

  • Sourcing the applicant’s permission to request the report.

  • Giving the applicant a copy of their report—including a summary of their rights under the FCRA. The candidate should have the opportunity to respond to any negative information outlined in the report, and to contest it if needed.

It’s important to note that some counties and cities have begun to prohibit employers from investigating a candidate’s criminal background in the early stages of the hiring process. These are colloquially known as “ban the box” laws.

“Ban the box” forces employers to make their initial decisions based on job candidates’ qualifications. Essentially, they’re designed to prevent hiring managers from stigmatizing and disqualifying applicants with criminal histories right off the bat.

Contact Umbrella Security Services Today

Hiring is a complicated practice. That said, many job candidates with a criminal background deserve a second chance. Treating these applicants with empathy and humanity is essential.

An FCRA-compliant approach to background screening can help you work ethically and develop the right strategy for your business needs and goals. Just remember to consider the above risks and advantages of hiring a team member with a criminal history.

Have questions about secure hiring practices like conducting a background check?

Looking to understand the security services available to your business?

Please contact us to schedule your complimentary talk with Umbrella.

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