There are thousands of well qualified potential candidates desperate for a job but they're shut out because they don't have the required spotless criminal background. By allowing a personal bias against hiring people with a conviction on their background check, these employers are segregating an ever widening part of the labor pool. What a waste of valuable talent!
In May, I attended the Southern Regional Summit On Fair Hiring in Atlanta. It was a meeting of stakeholders in the effort to bring about a positive change for people with criminal backgrounds and returning citizens attempting to re-enter the workforce. The event was well attended by people in all areas; law enforcement, criminal justice, non-profit, reform advocates, & even some people most affected by the background barrier. What was missing was an equal amount of employers & Human Resource people that could share their concerns & also benefit from the exchange of information presented.
Studies show that nearly 1/3 of American adults have been arrested by age 23. This record will keep many people from obtaining employment, even if they have paid their dues, are qualified for the job and are unlikely to re-offend. An extra set of punishments, or "collateral consequences," is imposed on individuals as a direct result of their criminal convictions. A national study, conducted by the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section, has listed more than 38,000 statutes that impose collateral consequences on people convicted of crimes. Over 80 % of the statutes serve as a barrier to employment opportunities.
Collateral consequences can be nothing more than an unspoken warning that it's safer to reject anyone with a record. If we limit the criminally convicted the ability to support themselves, it becomes economic and public safety issues. If society is discouraged from recognizing and accepting genuine rehabilitation, this has moral and social implications as well. Any restrictions that have no true regulatory reason, and can’t be avoided or mitigated, are really an additional punishment.
Regardless of the legal restrictions, the majority of employers indicate that they would "probably" or "definitely" not be willing to hire an applicant with a criminal record, according to a 2011 study. In fact, in a report by the National Employment Law Project, frequent use of blanket "no-hire" policies among major corporations, as shown by their online job ads posted on Craigslist was found.Getting a job is one of the most important steps toward successful re-entry for people who have criminal records and paid their debt to society. However, too many people are denied job opportunities and so are unable to have the chance to succeed.
The “Ban The Box” initiative is an attempt to give applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring process. Sixteen states have adopted this policy so far. While delaying the criminal background question might help an applicant get an interview, it still allows the job offer to be rescinded or denied once the background information is revealed. It doesn’t seem to matter if the applicant reveals it or if it is revealed on the background check. Applicants in the past rarely got to an interview if they answered yes to the conviction question. Now, they can get all the way to an offer before having the background revealed but the result is usually still a rejection once the conviction is brought into the picture. A felony conviction is a huge black mark on what could be an otherwise outstanding resume.
An employer's concern is understandable. Employers don’t want to hire individuals who might commit future crimes and who might be a risk to their employees' or customers' safety. They believe that a prior record signals a higher chance that the applicant will commit more crimes in the future. But what about the applicant whose conviction was non-violent or non-job related?
No one has suggested giving preference to these applicants when it comes to jobs. Employers should have a right to consider a person's criminal history in making a hiring decision. A major concern is that some employers take extreme measures by banning anyone with a criminal record altogether. What is important is that people have an opportunity to apply and be considered for jobs when they are qualified and when their criminal record is not relevant or occurred long enough in the past to no longer be the most important factor in whether they should be hired. Fair hiring is not a right in today's employment market unless the applicant happens to be a member of a protected class. In those cases, the possibility of being hired comes more from their protected class status than the overlooking of the negative background results. Employers will almost always reject a non protected class applicant that has a criminal conviction. While the EEOC advocates for an individual assessment where the criminal background is considered in the way it relates to the job, very few employers actually do those assessments.
The reason I know this is as I have seen this firsthand. I have become an advocate for reforming the hiring practices because someone close to me is now one of the ones experiencing the personal bias in the hiring process. Since he began his job search in February he has been offered 8 wonderful jobs for which he was extremely qualified. These are highly technical jobs requiring special skills & experience which he has, has aced the interviews & has everything they wanted ... until he disclosed that he has a non-violent, non job related criminal conviction on his background. As soon as that information was relayed, all 8 offers were rescinded with no chance to discuss or appeal the decision.
It is tragic that the person who was the best person for the job just a few minutes ago suddenly became unemployable all because their background became the most important focus. While I understand the concerns that employers have for their reputation & safety of those around them, I fail to understand how a fair decision can be made without a discussion with the applicant. It appears that even though a person may have finished the punishment mandated by the legal system, society still has the right to continue that punishment by denying them a chance to prove their worth.
Until society and the workplace decides that a criminal record is only part of the person, we will be denying opportunity to those that need it most. It should be remembered that many of those with criminal records never envisioned having one. One day it could be someone we know or even ourselves that face these same obstacles