You’ve done it. You’ve found the ideal candidate for that position you’ve been trying to fill for weeks. In training and experience, the person is perfect. The interview was stellar. The employee has not only the skills you’ve been searching for but also that welcoming personality that you know instinctively will mesh beautifully with the rest of the team. Your gut tells you this person is going to be a wonderful asset to the organization.
Then it happens. The results of the background check come in, and you discover your perfect applicant has a criminal record. What do you do? Cautious employers may reject the candidate out of hand for such a blemish, fearing the potential risks or reputational harms this person may pose to the company.
However, when you disqualify an otherwise highly qualified candidate based solely on a criminal record, you’re not just doing a disservice to the applicant but also hurting both your company and your community. Indeed, this particular talent pool may well be among the most marginalized and discriminated against, and yet it is also among the most talented, loyal, and deserving.
This article explores why you should consider hiring qualified applicants despite the existence of a criminal record. It also provides strategies for helping recruiters gain the approval of decision-makers and staff in these efforts. Finally, the article provides tips for protecting your business and employees to help support peace of mind for all.
A Deserving and Underexplored Talent Pool
For far too long, persons with criminal records have been stigmatized as society’s irredeemables, possessing some intrinsic and ineradicable moral flaw that makes them a perpetual threat to the people and organizations they engage with.
It is perhaps little wonder, then, that in times of economic downturn, it is often former felons who experience the greatest hardship, including rampant, long-term unemployment. Because finding, and keeping, a steady job is often a central condition of parole, the inability to find work may well signify the loss of freedom for those seeking to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.
The reality, though, is that a criminal conviction or time served in prison does not automatically mark the applicant as a threat to your team, customers, or company. In fact, our criminal justice system is predicated on the rehabilitative model, the premise that, with proper support, most people with a criminal record can transform their lives and become highly functioning members of society.
This model asserts that people should not be perpetually punished for the mistakes of the past; that rehabilitation and redemption are, indeed, possible; and that hard-earned life lessons can make a profound contribution to the well-being of the community. This transformative process often begins with an employer being willing to give a chance to someone who is striving to turn his or her life around.
The Benefits of Hiring Someone with a Criminal Record
Hiring an applicant with a criminal record is about more than the intangible rewards of striking a blow for social justice. There are also demonstrable benefits for the company’s bottom line.
Research has shown, for example, that when you hire an applicant who has a criminal record, especially when the person has successfully completed a rehabilitation program, not only is he or she less likely to re-offend, but the person is also often more loyal than the general population of workers. In other words, you’re likely to experience significantly lower attrition rates when you draw from this particular talent pool.
In addition, automatically rejecting a qualified applicant based on a criminal record may expose your company to expensive litigation. This is especially true if the applicant has engaged successfully in rehabilitation efforts and/or if the prior offense is relatively minor, if the applicant does not have an extensive criminal background, or if the offense has little connection to the nature of your business.
If you find that your stakeholders, leadership, or staff are exhibiting reluctance with regard to hiring a candidate with a criminal record, there are effective things you can do to complete the hire while protecting the harmony and peace of mind of the team.
For example, if some employees are concerned about the candidate’s physical presence on campus, then you might negotiate a remote work strategy for the applicant or the concerned team members.
Similarly, if there are questions concerning the applicant’s access to sensitive company materials, then you might shift from paper to digital work product. Scanning and shredding documents, for example, will ensure that authorized personnel continue to have access to the materials they need while eliminating the worry that hard copies will fall into unauthorized hands. Once digitized, these documents can be password-protected, encrypted, or otherwise electronically secured.
Once upon a time, employers excluded out of hand any job applicant with a criminal background. Today, however, recruiters and business leaders are beginning to recognize the rehabilitative model of criminal justice, as well as the profound contributions that this particular talent pool can make both to the community and to the company. The key for recruiters is simply to be judicious, deliberate, and informed.
Katie Brenneman is a Guest Contributor at HR Daily Advisor.