Hello! I’m Traci Ivester, Chief Operating Officer at ClearStar, and this is the next installment of For the Public Record—a blog that features thought leadership from the most seasoned experts on our staff, across all functions of the background screening process.
Picture this. The background check results read:
Arrest Date: 3/6/2014
Charge: Possession of Marijuana – Misdemeanor
Disposition: 8/22/2015, Convicted
Sentence: 1 Year Probation, $450 Fine
Would this impact your hiring decision? What if the charge was a reportable felony conviction for shoplifting from 15 years ago? Would you not hire the candidate based on this one result?
The National Institute of Justice reports that one-third of all Americans under the age of 23 have been arrested (one-third!), many of which result in misdemeanor convictions. An astounding 8% of U.S. voting-age+ population have a felony conviction.
So, What Do I Do When My Candidate Has a Conviction?
Well, first things first. Do you fully understand the information that is being reported and how it applies to the position you’re hiring for? Does your company have written hiring policies that are position-specific? Are you conducting individualized assessments? Are you following all FCRA and EEOC requirements? So many questions! We won’t go into all the legal aspects, but these are good questions to ask yourself. Make sure you have the right answers for your company. If you don’t already have the answers, you will want to consult with either your internal or external legal counsel to be sure you are making appropriate decisions.
As evidenced by numerous state and local legislation (and also opinions from the EEOC), a candidate should not automatically be disqualified from the job because of a previous conviction. People make mistakes. Looking at the statistics, the percentages are moderately high and continue to grow.
If you are conducting several different services on a background check, it’s important to look at the completed results as a whole. If the candidate only has a minor misdemeanor conviction, but all other services are clear (i.e. a valid driver’s license and verified past employment with no discrepancies), he/she may still be a good hire. It’s also important to take into account how long ago the conviction occurred and if there is any direct correlation with the job duties. Talk to your candidates, allow them to explain the circumstances of their offense, and let them tell you how they’ve learned from the situation or turned their life around. You wouldn’t want to pass on a good employee because of one past mistake.
With today’s economy on the upswing, and a decreasing pool of qualified candidates, we need to consider and be open to the alternatives. Manufacturing and service industry and other manual labor jobs need skilled workers that can demonstrate consistency and pass a drug test. Hiring individuals who’ve put their past behind them and can now contribute to a strong and productive workforce is a win for everyone. If we do not consider these alternatives, it will be a long and difficult struggle to find the right employees.
FYI, we are not saying you should allow convicted individuals with serious felony offenses such as assault and battery or sex offenses to work with the public or in areas where they may harm others. Logic and reason need to be applied. But do not automatically cross someone off the list due to a conviction. Carefully weigh all of the information you have before deciding.
So, Why Should I Give My Candidate a Second Chance?
Corporations and larger companies are becoming more open to hiring those with criminal convictions. In recent years, Target, Home Depot, Google, and Starbucks have all taken steps to reduce the barriers for employment. Legislation such as “ban the box” (not asking a candidate about criminal records on their application) or taking the Fair Chance Business Pledge are helping to put former offenders in contact with companies that will provide second chances. There are also organizations that assist past offenders in finding meaningful employment, so the trend is growing.
There could also be material tax incentives for employers to do so. Business who hire ex-felons within one year after they are convicted or released from prison may qualify for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (“WOTC”). WOTC is a federal income tax credit incentive provided to private sector employers. An employer may be eligible for WOTC when they hire from certain target groups of job seekers who face employment barriers. Each year, employers claim over $1 billion in tax credits under the WOTC program. For more information on the federal program, please see the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/work-opportunity-tax-credit and the following FAQ at http://www.cmswotc.com/faq/.
The background screening industry is here to help you create a safe working environment for your employees and clients. Furthermore, we (background screeners) also represent employment candidates. After all, it is their personal data, and it should be reported to the end user in an easy-to-understand way, and most important, it should be up-to-date and accurate. But employers need to use the background check report as one piece of the hiring puzzle, and not the only one.
Hiring the right candidates will always be a complicated process, but with legal counsel and an open mind, you can be sure you are making the right hiring decisions for your company and your candidates. This is For The Record.