How Would You Feel If Your Co-Worker Had a Violent Criminal Record?

Most say they’re more comfortable with those convicted of nonviolent crimes

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie April 1, 2019
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​Most respondents to a recent survey said they'd feel comfortable working with or buying goods or services from employees who have nonviolent criminal records.

But that sentiment changes drastically if fellow employees have violent criminal records, according to survey results released April 1 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).  

One way HR professionals and hiring managers might ease discomfort about working with someone who has a violent criminal record is to understand the nature of the crime, said Ewan Watt, director of communications at the Charles Koch Institute. For instance, getting into a bar fight that resulted in only minor injuries, which could be considered a violent offense, is a lot different from murdering someone. Watt was instrumental in creating SHRM's Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, a program that provides information and tools for HR professionals and employers who are considering hiring candidates with criminal records.  

"Each situation should be viewed independently regarding these and potential other factors," said Trent Burner, SHRM's vice president of research and a former Walmart executive.  "There is not a clear-cut answer to whether an organization should hire someone with a criminal background for a position.  It depends on a number of factors, including the type of job and the job duties—[whether] public facing, phone operator, machine operator, et cetera—and the industry—some of which have compliance-related issues—the type of crime committed, the length of time since the crime was committed, employment history since the crime was committed, and more," Burner  said. 

Someone with a recent violent criminal history may not be considered for a customer-facing retail or restaurant position, but may be considered for remote telework or data-entry work, he said. 

"Likewise, someone with a violent criminal history committed 20 years ago, but who has had significant employment experience since without incident, may be considered for a job in finance, whereas someone with a financial crime and no violent criminal activity may not." 

Working with Colleagues Who Have Criminal Records

The survey of 1,003 people in the United States was conducted March 12-18, both online and by phone. Almost 3 in 4 respondents said they'd feel comfortable working for an employer if some of their colleagues have nonviolent criminal records.  

However, only 1 in 3 said they'd feel comfortable working for an employer if some of their colleagues had violent criminal records. Sixty percent said they'd feel uncomfortable, and the remainder said they didn't know how they'd feel.

How Customers Feel

Similarly, about 3 in 4 said they'd feel comfortable buying goods or services from businesses if the customer-facing employee had a nonviolent criminal record. And just over half said they'd still feel comfortable doing so if the customer-facing employee had spent five or more years in prison. When asked how they'd feel about employees who'd been in prison, those surveyed weren't told if the person serving prison time had committed a violent or nonviolent crime.

But again, only about 1 in 3 said they'd feel comfortable buying goods or services from businesses if the customer-facing employee had a violent criminal record. Sixty-three percent said they'd feel uncomfortable, while the rest said they didn't know how they'd feel.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Company Policies

About 3 in 4 respondents said they'd feel comfortable working for an employer that's known to hire those with criminal records.

But only 1 in 5 who are currently employed said they believed that their own organization hires people with criminal records.

"This is to be expected, as many employees are not aware of their employer's policies on different hiring and managing practices," the survey authors wrote.


Getting Talent Back to Work

In late January, SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, announced the Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, which includes such co-sponsors as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and Koch Industries. Associations and companies representing more than 60 percent of the U.S. workforce signed the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge, agreeing to change their recruiting practices to include qualified people with criminal backgrounds.

"This 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," Taylor said. "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."

According to recent research by SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute:

  • More than 8 in 10 hiring managers say workers with a criminal background are high-quality hires—equal to or even more effective than those without criminal histories.  
  • About 3 in 4 hiring managers say there's extreme value in hiring those with criminal histories, in part because it costs relatively little to recruit and hire them, they represent a diverse pool of talent, and there's intrinsic social value in giving people a second chance at employment. 
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