HR More Accepting of Workers with Criminal Records

But too many companies still just ‘talking the talk,’ expert says

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer May 10, 2021
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HR More Accepting of Workers with Criminal Records

​New research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the SHRM Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute shows that a majority of HR professionals and business leaders are willing to hire and work with people with criminal records.

People with criminal records—especially those who were incarcerated—face significant barriers to employment. Based on surveys of over 3,400 HR professionals, managers, executives and individual contributors conducted in February and March, the new research found that most believe people with criminal records perform the same as or better than other hires in terms of job performance, dependability, retention and overall quality of hire.

Specifically, 85 percent of HR professionals and 81 percent of business leaders believe workers with criminal records perform just as well or better in their jobs compared to workers without criminal records, and 81 percent of HR professionals say the quality of hire for those with criminal records is about the same or better—an increase of 14 percentage points from 2018, the last time the survey was taken.

"For years, SHRM and Stand Together [a philanthropic organization created to address policy initiatives] have been committed to changing the narrative and helping people with criminal records thrive and succeed in the workplace," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, SHRM's president and chief executive officer. "We know when people with criminal records are excluded from the workforce, a large, willing, trainable talent source goes to waste. Businesses can't afford to ignore this key talent pool—who, in fact, make hardworking and loyal employees.

"By encouraging employers to recruit, hire, and give workers with a criminal background a chance, we can help close the skills gap and break the cycle of recidivism, positively impacting families, communities and businesses across the country—not just now, but for generations to come."

SHRM and Stand Together are founding partners of the Second Chance Business Coalition, a cross-sector group of large employers committed to expanding hiring and advancement practices within their companies for people with criminal records.

Over two-thirds of HR professionals (68 percent) and nearly half of business leaders (49 percent) believed their organizations' desire to hire the best candidate for a job regardless of criminal history played a very large role behind the decision to hire from this talent pool.

"Many employers have discovered that not only is hiring from this talent pool the right thing to do—and there's PR value in hiring the formerly incarcerated—but then these workers do so well on the job, so it's a win-win-win," said Richard Bronson, the founder and CEO of 70MillionJobs, an employment marketplace and platform for people with criminal backgrounds. "In addition, nearly every large company now has a diversity and inclusion [D&I] initiative, and hiring from this group is a very effective way in addressing D&I, because so many of these job seekers are people of color."

Still a Long Way to Go

According to the survey, 53 percent of HR professionals said they would be willing to hire people with criminal records, and only 12 percent said they would be unwilling to do so.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of HR professionals indicated they would be willing to work with people who have criminal records, up from less than half (49 percent) who felt this way in 2018.

While that data is trending positively, Bronson—who works every day to convince HR professionals and hiring managers to hire people with criminal records—believes there is still a lot of work to do before intention becomes action.

"I suspect that many of the respondents to surveys like this are more aware of the issue and have increased attitudes of acceptance, but if you look at hiring practices, it's mostly talking the talk but not walking the walk," Bronson said. "The percentage of employers who are actually hiring from this population is much lower than 53 percent. Hiring one or two people in a pilot program is not fair-chance hiring."

There's also the question of what kind of criminal record is being considered, Bronson said. "Companies may not disqualify candidates for misdemeanors or marijuana possession, but very few companies are hiring people with serious criminal records. There are certain backgrounds which are virtually unemployable."

He explained that some companies use a screening matrix when hiring, in which certain criminal convictions automatically disqualify a candidate for certain jobs. "HR departments are risk-averse," he said. "Their greatest fear is hiring the wrong person and an incident occurs. Yet there rarely is a post-hire incident."

The expectation is that someone with a criminal record will be untrustworthy, act inappropriately or commit crimes while on the job, he said. "But the data suggests the opposite. People who come out of prison and who have jobs almost never get in trouble, and because they have limited options when finding a job and know that someone went out on a limb to hire them, they are that much more loyal to their employer," Bronson said.

The SHRM Foundation's Getting Talent Back to Work platform and certificate program provides HR and organization leaders with tools, research and expert advice for businesses who want to hire candidates from this valuable talent pool.

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