Should You Hire Convicted Criminals?
If you are responsible for hiring for your company, sooner or later you’re going to have an applicant who answers “yes” to the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Should you automatically reject that candidate? Not necessarily. Good workers are always in great demand, and you may find some excellent employees who have criminal backgrounds. And unless you have a legal reason for doing so, a blanket policy of excluding applicants with criminal records could leave you open to liability.
To develop a policy on hiring convicted criminals, begin with a clear understanding of the applicable legal requirements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Compliance Manual says that employers cannot enact a “blanket exclusion of persons convicted of any crime.” In addition, many states have laws prohibiting employers from rejecting an applicant strictly on the grounds of a past conviction. However, a criminal conviction may make an applicant ineligible for a job that requires bonding or special licensing and there may be other legitimate reasons to reject a convicted felon for certain positions, depending on the circumstances.
Once you understand the legal requirements that apply to your business, you can assess whether the applicant is the right person for the job. This means considering the conviction in the overall context of the applicant’s background, skills and abilities, and your staffing needs. For example, you certainly wouldn’t want a convicted sex offender working around children or any type of vulnerable people such as the elderly or disabled. You probably would not want someone who has been convicted of embezzlement as your bookkeeper, but if you are hiring for a position that does not require handling of money or access to financial records and accounts, you might consider that person. There is valid reason for not hiring people who have been convicted of drug-related offenses for positions where they would have access to prescription medications, but if your company isn’t in the medical field, you may want to give that person a chance.
In addition to the nature of the offense and the job itself, another issue to consider is when the offense occurred. You would probably view a recent armed robbery somewhat differently than you would a 20-year-old conviction for marijuana possession.
One of the most common convictions employers have to consider is driving while intoxicated (or driving under the influence–DWI or DUI). In that case, some issues you’ll want to keep in mind is whether or not the person will be driving a company vehicle or driving their own car on company business, and if he or she is insurable.
As you establish your policies, keep in mind that–beyond legal requirements–convicted felons need to work to support themselves and their families. If they can’t find jobs, they going to be dependent on public assistance and are at greater risk of recidivism. Certainly you don’t want to put your company, customers, or employees at risk by hiring a dangerous person, but don’t automatically exclude a category of candidates simply because they made a mistake in the past.
Whatever you decide, remember that you should always be able to demonstrate a legitimate business reason for your hiring choices.