12/13/2018 Molly Moseley

Hire a felon, make a difference

You’ve been waiting weeks for a qualified applicant to apply for a job opening at your company. Finally, one rolls in that looks hopeful. That is, until you learn they have a felony record. Your company has a strict policy that employees can’t have felonies for many positions — including this one — so you dismiss the resume and continue the waiting game. What a shame, you think.

What a shame indeed!

HR managers most certainly want to protect the business’s best interests while also ensuring the safety and security of employees. Rightfully so, this means implementing guidelines and rules, but are companies too strict when it comes to hiring people with criminal records? The answer is often yes.

The criminal justice system strives for rehabilitation and reentry into society, but it too often comes up short and it’s tough for people to catch a break. You make a mistake, get caught and do your time. Next, you need a job to focus and get back on your feet, but that criminal record means it’s difficult to get hired. After a while, you get desperate and break the law again.

This downward spiral can be broken by organizations willing to look beyond the record at the potential of the employee. It’s the season of hope, so perhaps contemplate how second chances might lift someone up while also benefiting your bottom line.

Consider All Square, a “craft grilled cheese” restaurant here in Minneapolis, which has the following tagline: “Don’t judge, just eat.” All staff have criminal records and the eatery has gone viral. This is a place that is truly giving people an opportunity to change and the community is embracing it!

More than 70 million Americans have a criminal record. We need these people to be able to find jobs and make an honest wage if we want to keep them out of jail. Giving someone a chance not only is an opportunity for them to improve their life, but it can also power the engine that runs your business.

Companies are already becoming more lenient about hiring rules, opting to consider people without college degrees for positions that previously required one. Opening appropriate opportunities to people with criminal records may be the next step in 2019. As the talent wars rage on, this might be a simple solution for filling certain positions.

Of course, companies should always be mindful when hiring anyone with a criminal record; just be cautious not to make assumptions. Consider how the conviction is related to the job and how long ago it took place. Let the person explain the situation and hear them out. You will have a much better understanding of their past (and future potential) if you do.

Intrigued? Take the first step by considering partnerships with local government and hiring organizations. There are workforce development programs nationwide that would love to expand their partner network to help empower disadvantaged employees. Many offer training so applicants gain important skills before they even apply at your company.

Finally, check out the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and see how giving someone a second chance can benefit the company financially come tax time.

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