Because many employers struggle to fill positions, some widen their search to include people with criminal records and advertising fair chance hiring policies. In May 2022, the percentage of job postings on Indeed that promote fair chance hiring was up 31% from May 2019. The same report indicates that the share of job searches using phrases like ‘felon friendly’ and ‘no background check’ has risen 45% since May 2021.
Fair chance hiring, also called second chance hiring, is the practice of hiring an individual regardless of their criminal record, which gives people with convictions more opportunities in the job market. Between 70 million and 100 million Americans have a criminal record, including minor offenses, such as misdemeanors or arrest without conviction. Excluding these individuals based solely on a criminal record denies them an opportunity to re-enter the workforce and society, affects your business’s potential talent pool, and has implications for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The Benefits of Hiring Employees with a Criminal History
In our current talent marketplace, the apparent benefit is broadening your talent pool. Eliminating one-third of the adult population with criminal histories means you’re overlooking candidates who have been rehabilitated and have great on-the-job potential. When unemployment nears a record low, many employers are finding that they need to consider new sources of workers. Individuals with criminal records can be a good source of untapped talent for many organizations.
Employers who hire those with records can also take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Federal Bonding Program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor that offers bonds that cover the first six months of employment for at-risk and hard-to-place job seekers. You can visit the National HIRE Network to see if your state offers additional programs.
Companies must decide if and how to hire workers with criminal records. Employers pursuing this talent source must understand how to manage both real and perceived risks of this hiring practice and communicate their policies and procedures to employees and applicants. The most important factors to consider when looking at alternative groups to hire from, like those with criminal records:
- Identify and evaluate the types of offenses (for example, non-violent convictions and misdemeanors) your company is willing to consider.
- Consider the length of time since the relevant conviction and a candidate’s rehabilitation efforts before and after release.
- Involve your organization’s senior leadership team. Buy-in from senior leadership is imperative to the success of a second-chance hiring program.
- Prepare communication for commonly asked questions from employees, leadership, and staff that a change in policy like this might bring.
Another factor in managing risk with second-chance hiring policies is compliance. As mentioned previously, employers that use criminal records in their hiring decisions must be aware of applicable federal and state laws, which are changing rapidly. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission recommends using a hiring or decision matrix — a guide through which companies can standardize which offenses are acceptable and which are not. A hiring matrix ensures that your guidelines are applied consistently and create a clear standard by which every applicant is measured. Background screening vendors are familiar with fair chance hiring and hiring matrices and can support setting these standards.