Criminal Backgrounds: How to Hire Great Candidates While Managing Risk

My Professional Experience: Why Getting It Right Matters

I am an advocate for second chances. As the former supervising attorney at Cabrini Green Legal Aid in Chicago and now the senior policy strategist at the ACLU of New Mexico, I have seen firsthand the devastating impact that an arrest or conviction record can have on a person’s life. In these roles, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with employers, including some of the largest companies in the world, to understand the concerns and challenges employers face when hiring people who may have a criminal history.

The issue is much larger than many people realize. According to the National Employment Law Project, 65 million U.S. adults, or about 1 in 3 Americans, have some sort of criminal record ranging from a mere arrest to a prison sentence. The effects of having a criminal record are widespread. The American Bar Association has catalogued 48,000 collateral consequences that stem from having a criminal record, including over 600 individual effects here in New Mexico. These can include more obvious impacts on employment and housing, but also myriad other ways that aren’t always obvious such as the ability to obtain a license to be a barber.

The Current Landscape

While the number of people with criminal records has continued to grow, employers have become more diligent in screening candidates for criminal history. In fact, the Society of Human Resources Managers has said that 92% of its members screen job applicants for criminal histories. Nonprofits are no different, and many nonprofits work with sensitive populations, such as seniors and children, where criminal background checks aren’t just good policy, they are required by law.

Unfortunately, for some employers the answer has been to simply not hire people with criminal records. This is unfortunate for several reasons, including the fact that 1) employers are potentially missing out on a large pool of applicants in a tight job market, 2) nonprofits may be recreating harms in the communities they serve, and 3) employers may actually run afoul of antidiscrimination laws.

In the last few years, several very large companies settled multimillion-dollar lawsuits for refusing to hire or not properly screening people with criminal histories. This got the attention of large corporations, human resource managers and general counsels across the country. This area of law can be complicated and is rapidly changing, so it is critical for all employers, including nonprofits, to understand best practices around screening and hiring people with criminal records.

How You Can Help Effect Change

In my upcoming training, How to Hire Great Candidates While Managing Risk, we’ll discuss real-world examples of hiring decisions, federal and state laws, best practices for different types of organizations, and we'll actually work through examples together. Participants will leave with a better understanding of how to manage risk for their organization as well as how to be sure their organization is tapping into a large and committed segment of the workforce.

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