SHRM Urges Employers to Consider Applicants with Criminal Histories

Initiative follows recently passed federal First Step Act to increase training and jobs

By SHRM Online staff January 29, 2019
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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Koch Industries have launched Getting Talent Back to Work, an initiative encouraging individuals and their organizations to pledge that they will give opportunities to qualified job applicants with criminal backgrounds.

The initiative calls for HR professionals, hiring managers, executives and their organizations to pledge that they will consider job seekers with criminal backgrounds, and it is open to all organizations. Companies and trade associations representing more than 50 percent of the U.S. workforce have committed to the initiative, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, the American Staffing Association, SHRM, Koch Industries and Dave's Killer Bread Foundation.

"[People with criminal histories] is a group we, as business leaders, cannot afford to overlook, as 1 in 3 adults in the United States currently has a criminal background," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM president and CEO. He also is an advisor to the Safe Streets & Second Chances program, a project of the Right on Crime initiative at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

"Not only is it the right thing to do—to give a deserving person a second chance—but it is becoming imperative as businesses continue to experience recruiting difficulty at an alarming rate."

In conjunction with the pledge, SHRM developed a free resource toolkit based on an extensive body of research and best practices from thousands of organizations. It is designed to help businesses:

  • Understand the legal issues that surround hiring workers with criminal backgrounds.
  • Apply evidence-based best practices in hiring applicants with criminal backgrounds.
  • Get practical guidance from industry leaders in acquiring, developing and promoting talent, including workers with criminal backgrounds.

The toolkit notes that considering these applicants is "about giving candidates with criminal backgrounds a chance to be included in the selection process, carefully assessing the nature of their crimes and the time since conviction against the requirements of the job and balancing overall risks against potential rewards."

[Take the SHRM quiz "Hiring Individuals with Criminal Records"]

Ninety-five percent of people currently in prison will eventually be released; more than 650,000 people are released each year. In December, the Senate and House passed the First Step Act to expand job training and other programming to reduce recidivism rates among federal prisoners. The act also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including laws requiring mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders.

"Our nation just took a major first step toward helping people who want an opportunity to transform their lives—now we're pledging to take the next step," said Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries.

"Koch is incredibly proud to offer second chances to qualified people with a criminal record and now, thanks to SHRM, more businesses will have the tools needed to hire these individuals. By taking this next step, we can create stronger families, a more robust workforce, and safer communities for all."

Taylor has said organizations should not view a criminal record as an automatic disqualification for employment.

"Companies across the country have partnered with state and local correctional agencies to give inmates access to real-world work opportunities, ranging from circuit board manufacturing to fruit packing," he said. "Companies can also partner with prisons to provide inmates with vocational training in industries such as auto repair and information technology."

Research from SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute published in 2018 found that U.S. employers are willing to hire someone with a record if that applicant is the best person for the job. More than 80 percent of managers and two-thirds of HR professionals think the value workers with criminal records bring to an organization is as high as or higher than that of workers without records.

"As a country, we are making improvements to the justice system," Taylor said. "It's our time as business leaders to reframe the conversation around nontraditional talent pools and embrace those with criminal backgrounds as job candidates."

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