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SHRM-Koch Institute Research Identifies Value of Considering People with Criminal Records for Employment

Barriers to hiring workers related to perceptions, not quality of work

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — With employers facing recruiting challenges not seen in almost two decades, new research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) identifies a potentially significant pool of untapped workers.

In a research collaboration between SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute, two surveys found that a majority of workers in all roles said they were willing to hire and work with those who have a criminal record. 

A positive view of the employment of people with criminal backgrounds is emerging, with the research finding that a majority of HR professionals see little differences in quality of hire between those with and those without a criminal background. 

About two-thirds of HR professionals surveyed said their organization had experience hiring individuals with criminal records.

At companies that have hired workers with criminal records, employees rate the quality of their work as comparable to those without a record. Eighty-two percent of managers and 67percent of HR professionals believe that the quality of hire for workers with criminal records is about the same or higher than that of workers without records. HR professionals also say the cost-per-hire is similar for those with and without criminal records.

Yet, there is some ambivalence about hiring from within this group, with 41 percent of managers neither willing nor unwilling to hire individuals with criminal records. For HR professionals, that figure was 47 percent. This finding might be the recognition that hiring decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the skills and experiences required in jobs and the skills of specific job candidates.

“It’s time to put an end to the stigma that holds back inclusive hiring and retire outdated employment practices,” said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM’s president and chief executive officer. “With unemployment falling below 4 percent, employers must think differently about both jobs and the people who can fill them.

“A criminal record should never be viewed as an automatic disqualification for employment,” said Taylor, who also is an adviser to the Safe Streets & Second Chances program.

When asked why job offers were extended to individuals with criminal records, one-half or more of managers and HR professionals said they wanted to hire the most qualified candidate irrespective of criminal record. Other reasons included wanting to give people a second chance and making the community a better place. 

Factors that increased the likelihood of employment for workers with criminal backgrounds included demonstrated consistent work history, references, job training, and a certification of rehabilitation, the research found. Less likely to impact hiring were monetary incentives such as tax deductions.

“Many people with criminal records are ready, willing and able to work. It’s right — and encouraging — that many American employers and workers are willing to give them a second chance,” Taylor said.

“The key to reducing recidivism and improving public safety is finding employment for people,” said Vikrant Reddy, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. “If individuals with a criminal record can be considered for employment based on their talent and skills, the benefits for the business — and society — are far-reaching. HR professionals are well positioned to provide counsel and generate a tailored set of best-practice principles that will benefit both the business and the individuals seeking a second chance.”

The new research also identified barriers to the employment of people with criminal records. They include employer concerns about legal liability, customer reactions and regulations that prohibit hiring or make it difficult to hire.

Forty-six percent of HR professionals said their company requires job applicants to indicate their criminal history on an initial employment application.

The research also found some lack of awareness on this topic. “This is an issue we all should be talking about,” Taylor said. “We encourage HR professionals to lead conversations about inclusive hiring so other executives of organizations can make informed hiring decisions.”

Methodology: The findings come from two sources: a nationwide survey of 1,052 full-time employees (both managers and nonmanagers) and a survey of 1,228 HR professionals from the SHRM membership. The surveys, commissioned by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute, were conducted in March and April 2018. The research has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

MEDIA: For more information about the research project or to schedule an interview with SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., please contact Kate Kennedy at 703-535-6260 and, Vanessa Hill at 703-535-6072 and, or Sundra Hominik at 703-535-6273 and

About the Society for Human Resource Management
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 285,000 members in more than 165 countries. For nearly seven decades, the Society has been the leading provider of resources serving the needs of HR professionals and advancing the practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @SHRMPress.


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