Companies rethink hiring policies for former criminals

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Destinee Evans was one of 637,411 people released from state and federal prisons in 2012.

After serving a two-year sentence for a marijuana trafficking conviction, the 24-year-old applied for a half-dozen jobs in Ohio. One of the prospects, a telemarketer, met Evans for two rounds of interviews before running a background check. Then, she says, the company called to say it wouldn’t hire her.

“It’s hard for a person who’s constantly being told no,” says Evans, who eventually found a job last September as a receptionist for a not-for-profit.

Her experience highlights the obstacles ex-offenders face in re-entering the workplace. The population of former inmates has swelled, in part because U.S. incarceration rates more than tripled from the mid-1980s to 2010. About 1 in 35 adults was imprisoned at the state, federal, or local level or was on probation or parole in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

With the number of U.S. job seekers outnumbering openings almost 3 to 1, it’s easy for employers to pass over sullied resumes. But state and local lawmakers, and several major retailers are supporting efforts to increase the hiring of ex-offenders and to ensure that employers don’t discriminate on the basis of criminal records.

One barrier that’s drawn attention and criticism is the box on job applications asking prospective employees if they’ve ever been arrested or charged with a crime. The “current-day scarlet letter,” as Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop recently described it, has led to a “ban the box” movement. Five states outlawed the question last year, bringing the total to 10. Another 56 local governments have similar prohibitions in place, according to data from the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group in New York.

Indianapolis lawmakers also are considering a "ban the box" proposal. The City-Council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee passed the measure  8-0 on Feb. 5. It still must be approved by the full council and the mayor to become law.

Some companies have already begun removing questions about criminal history from their job applications, to avoid immediately disqualifying job candidates who have criminal records. Target will ask the question later in the interview process and will run background checks after it makes a conditional job offer.

Wal-Mart Stores has a similar policy. “The removal does not eliminate the background check or drug test, but it offers those who’ve been previously incarcerated a chance to get their foot in the door,” said spokeswoman Tara Raddohl.

Federal labor laws do not explicitly prohibit companies from discriminating against ex-offenders. “There is not one specific statute [an employer] can go to,’’ said  Indianapolis labor lawyer Mark Waterfill.

Most of the rules spelling out what an employer can and can’t do come from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is stepping up scrutiny of employer hiring practices. Corporate policies that immediately screen former criminals can disadvantage minorities and violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the agency says. In April 2012 it issued a “guidance”—a set of rules for companies to follow in evaluating job applications of released prisoners.

The guidelines “create a burden on the employer to do a more individualized assessment” at the start of the hiring process,” said Andria Lure Ryan, a labor lawyer in Atlanta, and not simply weed out ex-offenders from the start.

The agency acknowledges there are valid reasons why some employers—a day care center, for instance—might not want to hire someone who has committed certain kinds of crimes. In such cases, the guidance says rejecting those applicants is OK. And there are federal regulations against hiring people convicted of violent crimes for jobs in airport security, among other fields.

The agency’s guidance isn’t the same as a federal law, but businesses have learned to take it seriously.

“When the EEOC makes a guideline like this, it often has the force of law,” Waterfill said.

Last June, the EEOC sued a BMW auto plant in South Carolina and Dollar General in Goodlettsville, Tenn., for alleged civil rights violations. The companies say they follow the law. Both cases are pending.

“It’s going to be an issue that employers need to wrap their heads around,” says Lester Rosen, founder of Employment Screening Resources, a background check company in Novato, Calif. “This whole process is picking up steam.”

Businesses are concerned that if they comply with the more restrictive rules, they risk exposing themselves to liability if they hire an ex-convict who then commits another crime.

“We’re caught in the middle,” says Richard Mellor, senior adviser for asset protection at the National Retail Federation.

“There really is a sense that we need to find ways for people to make a living,” says Elizabeth Torphy-Donzella, a labor and employment lawyer in Baltimore. At the same time, regulation “creates a risky environment for employers.”


  • a fair chance
    And I don't believe a person with a felony should get the job over someone who does not but I do believe if you sincerely lead a clean life and don't have repeated cycle of criminal activity you should be given a shot also, there is so many judgmental people that are way more jacked up that don't have felonies yet that look down on someone who made a bad decision when they were younger, it's a shame that the people with a old felony should be treated like a serial killer when they are just trying to move forward and better themselves then society wonders why many people turn back to fast money to feed their baby's mouths, I'm proud to have not I've resolved to use good judgment and move forward it's just said because most of the people with the prejudice claim to be Christians but have no forgiveness in their great hearts, I'm a believer and trust Christ with my life, I do understand the nature of the conviction I would even prejudice against such as sex offenders or thieves , but I have a felony and I always try to care for people and help others I don't go and look to cause harm or steal from people I just want to have a normal life and provide for my little girl who is six and my baby that's in the way but it's very challenging to have just an average living
  • EX Technical Sergeant USAF
    I was convicted of a felony for self defense for protecting myself against four drunk males with weapons, nobody got hurt I had a concealed permit and I was in security forces as military police officer ,I lost in trial because it was their word against mine...I'm not a "career criminal“ it ruined my career and I haven't been in trouble since and had a clean record and I've paid the consequences and still am and I'm no longer able to serve my country...I'm college educated and have a excellent resume and a family and I still pay for a mistake in judgment from when I was 23 my current job I haven't missed a day for almost a year and I work very hard.But I can't get promoted to the permanent position I'm more than qualified for and worked for so I miss a pay increase, benefits for my pregnant fiancee and quartley bonuses from 1 mistake for just warning people trying to commit physical and possibly permanent bodily harm/disfigurement and possibly resulting in death.People that look down on a man should only do so to help him up Is the way I was raised, I'm good to my fellow man and strive to do no wrong to anyone is this right to really crucify someone repeatedly for life when it's clear they don't participate in criminal activity and just want to provide for their family and have enough to help someone else out?
  • 2nd Chance
    We've all made mistakes in life, no one person is perfect. Some have made a lot of mistakes & just have never been caught. Do you know that if your name is on a property & some one living there commits a crime, like possessing or selling marijuana, you can receive a D felony for residing w/a common nuisance? How many of us in college made poor bf choices? Do they deserve to be treated as a criminal for life for this mistake? No!
  • Not required
    It seems to me that this effort is really to encourage employers to think about it before automatically disregarding someone who was ever convicted of a crime. There is a difference between someone who is caught and convicted of a misdemeanor, then spends 10 years as a completely law-abiding citizen versus someone who was jailed for sexual assault 3 times in the past 5 years. Not all former criminals deserve lifetime punishment.
  • Consider the alternative
    Nothing in this proposal is requiring criminals to be hired over law-abiding citizens. That being said, shouldn't we want criminals to reform and live a productive life contributing to society? If they can't get a job anywhere, how are they expected to support themselves, their dependents, and not revert to criminal activity? If someone becomes a felon for possession of pot in HS or college, is that a reason to prevent them from obtaining a job if they go get training / certifications / college degrees / etc? If they are truly the most qualified candidate, should they be immediately dismissed because of a crime a year ago? 5 years ago? 25 years ago? I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but perhaps people will consider whether the ideal is to punish criminals or reform criminals (or both).
  • Judgement Call
    Once you've paid your debt, Surely I will be allowed to make a honest wage,You never can predict what may happen to you.People need a chance to rectify wrongs,you may find yourself needing a hand up one day.
  • Not a chance
    So now we're going to make criminals a protected class as well? I'll tell you what, policy makers. I'll close my business or move it offshore before I hire thieves and scumbags. You people are seriously brain dead. I have zero sympathy for the mess you are creating. Idiots one and all.
    • I'll pass
      Why in heavens name would I hire a convict when there are tens of thousands of law abiding citizens looking for work? Let the state hire them.
    • Don't do the crime...
      If companies hire ex-felons over equally qualified law-abiding candidates, where is the incentive to be law-abiding? We've lost our collective minds!

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