Hiring Ex-Offenders Has Business, Societal Impacts

By Roy Maurer Apr 20, 2016
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iStock_000025995557_Small.jpgORLANDO, Fla.—HR consultant Max Dubroff, SHRM-SCP, has heard repeated refrains from HR practitioners: “There are so many other candidates without a criminal history.” “I’m scared to hire a felon.” “They’re more likely to break the rules.”

“I used to be prejudiced myself,” said Dubroff, who is based in Oklahoma City. For six years, he was the HR director for Buy For Less, a 14-store grocery chain in the Oklahoma City metro area with 1,100 team members. That is, he says, until he met ex-offenders who had been employed by his organization. “What I found was ... capable professionals doing a fantastic job. They were extremely loyal, because the company had given them a chance when many others wouldn’t.”

2016 Talent Management Conference & Exposition
2016 SHRM Talent Management Conference

That really opened his eyes, Dubroff told attendees April 19 at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent Management Conference & Exposition.

Giving ex-offenders jobs is not just about sympathy, he said. “This is truly a business necessity, with a societal impact and a talent imperative for organizations wanting to grow.”

The key perception disruptor Dubroff wants HR to consider is that when we talk about people with criminal histories, "we’re not talking about 'a population,' we’re talking about a person. Employers need to see post-incarceration employment as a cause that is important to society, taps into available talent for your organization, reduces your organization’s legal exposure and contributes to success.”

It’s understandable to be concerned and vigilant, though, he added. “This is not about opening the floodgates. .... We should consider one person at a time.”

Partnerships Help

Dubroff said there’s no need to try to tackle this issue on your own. Many community organizations train ex-offenders (but aren't in a position to give them a job). 

Buy For Less partnered with Public Strategies’ WorkReady Oklahoma program and The Education and Employment Ministry. “These partnerships have enabled access to people in pre-release status—a relatively untapped pool that most employers are not even aware of. The partners pre-screen the population to find [candidates] who demonstrated the best rehabilitation for employers to interview and do additional screening,” he said.

Not only did Dubroff “get great people and support,” he also got a lot of grant money. “These organizations go to the government and get lots and lots of money for training. They’re looking for employers to partner with. What employer would not love to have [access to] a free training program?”

Societal Impact

More than 650,000 individuals are released from prison every year, and half of them have committed nonviolent crimes. “When this population is released from prison, they typically go back home, where the problems are that got them into trouble in the first place,” Dubroff said. Approximately two-thirds will be rearrested within three years of release, according to the Department of Justice. “This is a real societal issue that affects everyone. Employers can and should step up and be part of a solution.” How can they do that? By offering employment at this critical time post-incarceration.

“Unfortunately, many employers are not willing to open their doors to those post-incarceration, because they face so many challenges to success, including housing, transportation, screening, training and moral support,” Dubroff said. But, “there’s no such thing as a disposable person. If we accept that every person has value, has potential, then we can get a better grasp of this societal issue.”

Talent Imperative

Think about the untapped capabilities, Dubroff said. “While there is much talk about the current and growing skills gap that leaves many jobs unfilled, employers often miss out on those who have the needed technical and soft skills because of prejudice against people with a criminal history, which they think is indicative of their future.

“In most of our organizations, HR is the ethical champion. I think it’s a wonderful thing to stand up and have integrity on this issue.”

Disparate Impact vs. Negligent Hiring

Dubroff said that there are two competing sides to the legal aspect of hiring ex-offenders. The first addresses prejudice. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates that employers consider applicants with arrest records because, if they don't, it can have a disparate impact on those whose race and national origin are disproportionally represented in arrests and convictions.

On the other hand, employers are held responsible for exercising good judgment and ensuring a safe workplace. Employers don't want to expose themselves to the risk of being sued for negligent hiring and negligent retention. But, Dubroff said: “Is it a prerequisite [for an employee] to have a felony history [before he or she will] hurt somebody at work? The answer is no.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy.

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