You are in charge of screening applications and resumes at your firm. You see the perfect potential candidate come across your desk. She has a the right combination of education and experience and is even a member of an academic honor society. In addition to all her educational experience, she has also operated a successful business while going to school full-time.
Yet, as you flip through her application, your heart sinks. She’s had to “tick the box,” and your firm has a blanket ban on any applicant who has been convicted of a crime.
Researchers with Portland State University found that in Oregon alone, more than 90 percent of those surveyed supported job training and employment services as a part of prisoner reentry, beating out all other categories, like drug treatment and even mental health care. A blanket ban is doing most job applicants a disservice – and it may also be doing your firm a disservice.
Let us first examine whether or not it is illegal for your firm to even enact a blanket ban on applicants with criminal records. As of now, there are 19 states and numerous individual jurisdictions that have “banned the box.”
Along with Washington, D.C., states like Minnesota, Georgia, and New Mexico have executed laws that remove the conviction question from job applications. This helps recruiters see applicants for their qualifications and talents, rather than for their past mistakes.
The majority of people who have served time in prison did so because of non-violent drug convictions. While not all firms have blanket bans, those that do contribute to recidivism in the released population. Blanket bans can also create legal headaches for firms on top of hindering their success.
The Legality of Blanket Bans
As observed by Ann Buccholtz, who teaches ethics and leadership at Rutgers University, blanket bans on hiring ex-convicts often show a pattern of “racial discrimination from disparate impact.”
In other words: Your firm’s blanket ban on ex-convicts could secondarily be shown to violate the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Buccholtz’s article defines “disparate impact” as using a set of seemingly neutral criteria to weed out another, protected, group – for example, using height and weight requirements for police officers to eliminate women from the applicant pool.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has cited numerous large organizations for violating applicants’ rights because of the disproportionate number of those of certain races turned away for failing background checks. Yet if these applicants were screened on a case-by-case basis, your firm could avoid these legal pitfalls as well as put more well-qualified applicants into the job pool.
The Shallow End of the Pool
By banning all applicants who have been convicted of crimes, your firm could be losing out on nearly unlimited potential. In the case of our applicant above, you are not only losing out on someone with a wealth of educational experience, you are also losing out on someone highly motivated to work.
In Hawaii, one state that has banned the conviction question, businesses are more than willing to hire ex-cons because of their willingness to work.
“He is by far my hardest-working, most respectable employee,” says Kahala Caterers president Winston Gample of ex-convict and lead delivery truck driver David Nunez. Nunez was hired by Gample because of his motivation to have a job and do it well.
Non-violent offenders are typically highly creative individuals who bring resourceful thinking to their jobs while leaving their pasts behind them. A Chicago-based marketing firm hired a former convict and found the employee to be a high-performing manager.
More Than Good PR
If a firm bans the ban on ex-cons, it will not only deepen its potential talent pool and gain some good PR, but it will likely improve the culture of the entire organization.
Prisoner rehabilitation is a notoriously divisive issue, even for ex-convicts themselves. Many are highly independent in nature, yet it is often necessary for them to use reentry programs established by their communities in order to keep from reoffending.
Once they have found an employer who is willing to give them a job, ex-convicts become fiercely loyal to that employer. This loyalty, if positively nurtured, can spread throughout the organization’s culture and benefit all employees. Gample’s employee Nunez is an example of how an ex-con can have a positive impact on an entire company culture.
You Have a Choice to Make
Even if your firm is in a right-to-work state, banning the conviction question is a choice to make. Certainly, there are many reasons to exclude certain applicants from certain jobs. Registered sex offenders should be screened very carefully, for example.
Yet your firm may be limiting its own success and that of the workforce at large if it tosses all applications with a ticked box in the trash. Banning the ban may be better all around in the long run – for our companies and our communities.