How open are employers to hiring workers with criminal records?

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The number of individuals with a criminal record is growing; authoritative sources cite approximately 30% of the working age population of the U.S. These workers need employment and often struggle to find it at the same time U.S. employers in many industries are hungry for workers. Could employers be ready for a meeting of this potential workforce and their employment opportunities?

A 2018 survey entitled Workers with Criminal Records by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) offers some insights and suggests answers to this question.

In the survey of more than 2,000 employees, managers, and human resource (HR) professionals, nearly half did not see a criminal record as a deciding factor in hiring employees. However, there was a great deal of uncertainty about hiring workers with criminal records around legal liability, customer and employee reactions, and regulations.

Most managers and employees report they are open to considering candidates and coworkers who have a record. Managing the real and perceived risks of these hires, developing and communicating policies and practices are all key to the successful employment and retention of workers who have a criminal record.   

More findings from the survey:

  • For those who had previously hired workers with a criminal record, 70-80% noted that the “quality of hire” for these workers is equal to or higher than that for workers in general, and that the cost of hiring is similar or lower than hiring workers without records.
  • Top reasons for hiring workers with criminal records include a desire to hire the best candidate for the job regardless of criminal history, making the community a better place, and giving individuals a second chance.
  • Large proportions of employees are willing to work with individuals with criminal records. Among managers, 55% are willing, 15% are unwilling, and 29% fall in between. Among non-managers, 51% are willing, 13% are unwilling, and 36% say they are neither willing nor unwilling. Among HR professionals, 47% are willing, 8% are unwilling, and 41% select neither.
  • Criminal history is asked on job applications at about half of HR professionals’ organizations.
  • While more than 68% of HR professionals are familiar with the “ban-the-box” campaign, only 14% of managers are.
  • A third of surveyed HR professionals work for organizations that choose not to have a policy regarding the hiring of workers with a criminal record, while a quarter of managers and half of nonmanagers are unsure whether their company has a policy. In some organizations, hiring workers with criminal records is part of the culture and does not require specific policies.
  • HR professionals say pre-hiring activities include: criminal history checks (73%), drug tests (50%), educational verifications (46%), social media and search engine searches (25%), credit checks (22%), and integrity tests (7%).
  • Smaller companies (fewer than 100 employees) conduct criminal history checks less often than larger companies.
  • In terms of experience with hiring employees with a record, patterns differ based on type of offense. A large majority of managers have hired candidates with misdemeanors or substance-related felonies like a DUI or drug-related crime. Fewer have experience hiring workers with a record of violent felonies, financial crimes, or sexual felonies.
  • Willingness to hire candidates with criminal records is strongly positively influenced by a consistent work history, employment references, job training, a certificate of rehabilitation. Some influence is noted from other business leaders’ positive experience, replacement programs, or monetary incentives like tax deductions or discounts on staffing fees.

If you are an employer or HR professional, visit CareerOneStop’s Business Center for ideas and information about hiring a diverse workforce, including people who have a criminal conviction, on.

If you are a job seeker who has a criminal conviction, check out CareerOneStop’s Job Search Help for Ex-Offenders for resources and tools to help in your job search.

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