Running A Business

Should You Hire Someone With a Criminal Record?

Nov 12, 2020 • 6 min read
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      Diversity has always been a powerful asset for small businesses. Studies reveal that workplaces that embrace diversity are more profitable and innovative. Other benefits include stronger workplace culture, better community engagement, higher employee retention rates, and increased brand loyalty.

      By a show of hands, who wouldn’t want these benefits for their business? It’s a wonderful win-win scenario when a choice can be ethical and rewarding. In fact, these 2 factors go hand-in-hand more often than many entrepreneurs realize. The more decisions you make from an ethical perspective, the more sustained the benefits.

      When it comes to conversations regarding diversity, the focus often rests upon deserving demographics, such as women and other disproportionately marginalized populations. These groups have been historically discriminated againstat best, they’ve been deprived of opportunities to advance as leaders. At worst, they’ve been barred from getting access to jobs and financing.

      It’s time to broaden this important conversation to apply to individuals who have a criminal record. This group still faces widespread discrimination—and not only to their own detriment. Businesses that don’t extend their diversity efforts to those with records are missing out on key benefits.

      “Fair chance hiring is based on the premise that everyone, regardless of background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for,” explains a diversity report from The Harvard Business Review. “The fact that Black people are more likely to face arrest and criminal charges—Black men are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white men—means that they are more likely to be barred from entering the workforce because of a criminal record.”

      The good news: more employers are opening their eyes to the benefits of hiring individuals with criminal records. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests that more of these individuals are getting the chance to seek meaningful jobs.

      “Employers are willing to consider candidates with criminal histories if they have good references, a solid performance record, and a certificate of rehabilitation, and are trained in skills the employer is seeking, according to the report,” says SHRM. “6 states—Arizona, California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York—offer rehabilitation certificates or something similar. In fact, 66% of managers and 75% of HR professionals have hired people who committed misdemeanors or substance-related felonies, such as DUIs. Fewer report hiring people convicted of violent or theft-related felonies. And over 66% of HR professionals who have hired people with criminal histories think their quality of work is as high as or higher than the work of employees who don’t have a criminal record.”

      The essence of this more humane approach to hiring: the aforementioned value of fair chance. When you embrace this concept, you don’t need to completely ignore the presence of a criminal record. Just as you would consider all the qualifications and background elements from other candidates, a criminal record has some relevance to the conversation. The point is that a candidate’s criminal record shouldn’t be considered until they’ve received an unbiased interview and their qualifications have been determined.

      The Benefits of Hiring Individuals With Criminal Records

      Let’s review some of the benefits your business can enjoy when you hire talented individuals who also have criminal records.

      1. They Make Great Employees

      Research shows that individuals who have criminal records bring more empathy, engagement, and problem-solving to your workplace. They cause no more problems than your employees who don’t have criminal records, and they’re less likely to quit.

      2. You Can Help Them to Improve Their Lives

      Did you know that having a job is the most critical factor when it comes to lower recidivism rates? By employing talented individuals with criminal records, you’re helping them to continue on a positive path where they can contribute to your business in meaningful ways. These opportunities bring major benefits to their lives and the lives of their families.

      3. They’re Hard Workers

      Knowing that their jobs are crucial and their employment prospects are limited, individuals with criminal records tend to be dedicated workers, going the extra mile. Ditch the stigmas and see for yourself how these employees perform at your business.

      4. Their Wages Can Be Better for Your Bottom Line

      This is a delicate issue: you should never be exploitative and pay someone less than they’re worth just because their job options are limited. But it’s worth noting that high-quality candidates with a criminal record are looking for great opportunities—so you can often get more talent for your dollar than you might with candidates who don’t have a record.

      5. Your Business Could Get a Tax Credit

      The Work Opportunity Tax Credit can provide you with thousands of dollars for hiring an individual with a criminal record. There isn’t a small business in America not looking for extra sources of money right now, so it’s wise to consider the value that comes from hiring a talented employee who also brings a valuable tax credit with them. Bring in more than 1 such employee, and you can receive the credit for each qualified hire.

      Modify Your Hiring Practices

      It’s important to create a hiring plan that embraces fair chance. How will you attract diverse individuals to your business? How will you ensure that they’re protected from bias during the interview process? And how do you plan to help these individuals feel accepted and celebrated by your team?

      By taking a deliberate and thoughtful approach to your hiring, you’ll do more than altruistically give talented individuals a chance to work at your company. You’ll also attract new perspectives, spur innovation, strengthen loyalty, elevate your brand, and bolster your bottom line. Commit today to seek (or keep) diversity in your workplace culture, and nearly every aspect of your business will be enriched.

      About the author
      Grant Olsen

      Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on and Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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