How Businesses Can Give Applicants of Record a Fair Chance

Roughly 77 million U.S. adults — more than a third — had a criminal record as of 2020, according to the latest data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan trade association of lawmakers and legislators.

This can make it difficult for these people to find work, even in the face of a shortage of workers.

“What’s happening here is that the records themselves make employers reluctant to hire, regardless of the conduct associated with the conviction,” said Lu Han, a senior attorney with the National Employment Law Project.

The result is that business owners may weed out qualified applicants because of their criminal records, even unintentionally.

Here are steps you can take to ensure a fair chance for these candidates.

Make your position clear in the job posting

According to the National Employment Law Project, 15 states and 22 cities and counties have passed “no box” legislation that applies to private employers. Thirty-seven states have banned the use of the boxes for public sector work.

“Ban the box” prohibits employers from asking about convictions or arrests related to job applications.

Lu recommends removing that question from your application — even if you don’t need to.

“[The box’s] Mere appearance is seen by track-seekers as a sign they won’t get the job,” Lu said, adding that it could deter otherwise qualified applicants from applying.

Beyond that, add language to your job posting that explicitly invites people of record to apply. Lu’s example: “We value diverse experience, including previous exposure to the criminal legal system” and “those with records are encouraged to apply.”

“These things may seem superficial, but they really matter,” Lu said.

Rethink background checks

Save background checks until after you’ve made an offer, suggests Lu. If the background check reveals a criminal record, share a copy with the candidate and review the results.

Conduct detailed background checks. For example, an arrest may show up on a background check — even if the person has never been convicted or even charged with a crime. Nearly half of black men were arrested at least once before the age of 36, according to a 2022 study in the academic journal Science Advances. More than half of unemployed men have criminal records.

“Over the past 50 years, how many black people have been stopped and recorded in the system without actually even being convicted?” said Harley Blakeman, founder of Honest Jobs, a program for people with criminal records The job search platform provided. “To say ‘well, they have arrest records’ is extremely unfair and prejudicial.”

It’s okay if your company responds to background checks differently depending on the role you’re hiring for, says Blackman. For example, you might be reluctant to hire someone convicted of identity theft in a role that handles your customers’ personal information. However, if your team likes the candidate enough to extend the offer, maybe they are suitable for another open position.

Blakeman also recommends making background checks the responsibility of HR personnel to reduce the impact of any manager-specific bias.

Understand business value

Giving people with criminal records a fair chance might help you find more candidates in an historically tight labor market, Blackman said.

“We’re no longer in an employer’s market. We’re in a market where candidates are picky,” Blackman said. “And that requires a different strategy.”

Making this shift doesn’t mean compromising, though. In fact, according to a 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 80 percent of business leaders said they believe employees with criminal records are just as good at their jobs — if not better — than those without.

“It’s good for people, for communities, and for organizations and employers,” said Wendi Safstrom, president of the SHRM Foundation, which in 2019 launched a program to encourage employers to hire people of record. initiative.

Another bonus: If the person you hired was convicted of a felony or released from prison within the past year, you may be eligible for the job opportunity tax credit. According to the IRS, this could be worth as much as $2,400.

Among other things, state employment departments administer the Federal Assurance Program, which provides free loyalty bonds and protects businesses from theft or fraud by documented employees.

Be prepared for internal changes too

If you hire someone who has returned from incarceration or has a felony conviction, be aware that they may need to meet with a parole officer or attend a court-ordered recovery support session. Employees may need flexible schedules or time off to meet these commitments.

Safstrom suggested connecting with a community-based organization that works with formerly incarcerated people. This can help your entire company understand what a recorded workforce needs.

By hiring and retaining people of record, your company “demonstrates a commitment to justice and fairness,” Lu says.

“[It’s] There is a fighting chance for these workers to build some kind of stability,” Lu said, “like economic stability, and stability to plan for the future for themselves. “

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Rosalie Murphy writes for NerdWallet. Email:

The article “How Businesses Can Give Applicants of Record a Fair Chance” originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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