Why you shouldn’t rule out applicants with a criminal record

By Brandan Davies , Partner at Roth Davies LLC

Brandan Davies is a Partner with Roth Davies, LLC. Brandan focuses his entire practice on helping those accused of crimes in Johnson County.

In years past when you were searching for an applicant, you could simply throw up a listing on Indeed and watch the qualified applicants flood your inbox. Now, not so much. The labor market is tight and qualified applicants are few and far between. For many businesses, the need for help has softened up some of the baseline requirements for getting your foot in the door. Should you consider allowing individuals with a criminal record to work at your business? The simple answer is you should have been doing that already. You shouldn’t have a strict “no tolerance” policy that prohibits an individual from working at your business simply because they have a criminal record. Here’s why.

A wholesale prohibition on any category of applicant is simply a bad practice to entertain at your workplace. If you don’t give people a chance, you are almost certainly missing out on quality employees. Below is the case for hiring an employee with a criminal record; however, there is one important caveat: Make sure you’re comfortable with the people you hire and the role you place them in. Sometimes a tiger can change their stripes, but be aware of the environment you place them in.

1. People make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

When an applicant walks in the door and discloses a criminal offense on their application, it takes a lot of guts.  That person knows they may be judged and they could just leave the criminal offense off their application, but they chose not to. Talk to the applicant about the offense and ask what they learned from their misdeed. You might find that the applicant simply did something stupid as a kid and learned their lesson. Having a minor offense on your record doesn’t mean you can’t be a valuable asset to a prospective employer. If an applicant is honest enough to disclose the offense, they should get some credit for their honesty.

2. Your criminal record may be ‘perfect,’ but you aren’t.

Just because an applicant might have gotten a DUI or been charged with marijuana possession doesn’t mean they aren’t employable in nearly all jobs. Making one bad decision shouldn’t disqualify you from gainful employment. Put yourself in the applicant’s position. You’ve probably done something in the past that you regret —we all have at one point or another. Despite that decision, you’re a good employee. Just because an applicant was formally charged doesn’t make them any less capable of doing the work.

3. A person can learn valuable skills when charged with a crime and those skills translate to the workplace.  

I’m not talking about learning how to make license plates; I’m talking about learning life skills. Accountability, punctuality, stress management, critical thinking and risk management are all skills a person accused of a crime gets exposure to during the criminal justice process. These skills translate in the workplace. For example, if an applicant tells you they received a DUI and were put on probation for a year and completed the probation successfully, you can derive some information from that: The applicant was able to attend meetings with a probation officer, alcohol classes and court hearings, and they were able to do all those things on-time as they were told. They also might have had to do all those things without a driver’s license. The applicant surely learned to be accountable and be responsible for their actions. That applicant is being honest with you and not hiding their misdeed. You can just throw their application away because “they have a criminal record,” or you could say, “This applicant has shown they are honest, accountable, punctual and capable of facing adversity.”

4. Applicants who feel you ‘took a chance on them’ often have a strong sense of duty and loyalty to their employer.  

Remember, the person before you who disclosed on their application that they have a criminal record has almost certainly been turned down before. They have had their heart broken because “HR said your background check came back unhireable.” Yet here they are, still disclosing the problem, not hiding anything. In my experience, people who feel their employer went out on a limb for them value that leap of faith. They value their job and the fact that a hiring manager found a role for them with the company when so many other companies couldn’t or wouldn’t. Hopefully, the loyalty you create with this new hire pays dividends in the future. The next time you need extra support at the last minute, the person you took a chance on will almost certainly be willing to pitch in with a smile on their face.


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