A felon is someone who commits a serious crime like homicide, larceny, rape, arson, burglary or another violent or non-violent offense. Despite their crime, felons can get jobs. In fact, employers must follow certain laws when interviewing and hiring felons.
Most employers perform background checks on all job applicants. These checks ensure that the applicant is honest when sharing skills, education and work history.
During background checks, employers cannot automatically exclude candidates who have criminal records, including records with misdemeanors, arrests and convictions that do or do not have relevance for the job. That discrimination falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Employment Interviews and Hiring Practices
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records outlines additional guidelines employers must follow. They state that:
- Employment policies may not automatically exclude anyone from employment
- Job applications may not inquire about convictions except those that may interfere with the person’s ability to do the job
- Employers may not exclude job applicants based on their criminal record, especially if the criminal offense is not related to the person’s job
- Other factors relative to the conviction should be considered, including facts or circumstances that relate to the offense or conduct, the number of offenses, the individual’s age at convictions, rehabilitation efforts, the applicant’s length and consistency of employment before and after offense and references
- All applicants should have a chance to explain their criminal records
- Employers should regularly investigate their background screening practices to ensure no groups are adversely impacted
Recent court cases filed by the EEOC clarify these rules. In all three of these cases, employers learned that blanket prohibitions against criminals are unlawful.
- Auto maker BMW refused facility access to any employees or contractors with certain criminal convictions. The broad policy is discriminatory because it’s not specific enough.
- At Dollar General, an applicant was terminated when she was falsely charged with a conviction. Even though she assured her manager of the wrongful charge, the company did not reverse its decision.
- The Waldon et al v. Cincinnati Public Schools addresses two employees who were fired unlawfully after criminal background checks.
Benefits of Hiring Felons
Employers who hire rehabilitated felons do receive several benefits. Felons can be valuable employees who are skilled at their jobs, able to work as a team and capable of advancing through the company. Also, a Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program from the Department of Labor gives organizations tax breaks when they hire criminals within one year of their conviction or prison release.
Felons are protected from discrimination. Every employer and employee should understand the law to ensure the workplace welcomes everyone.