By Irene Liu
Feb. 6, 2020
Many American companies are missing out on employees who have the potential to transform their perspectives and increase their profits. Specifically, they’re overlooking a significant swath of the U.S. population — the 70 million Americans who have a criminal record.
This isn’t to say progress hasn’t been made to re-integrate this group back into the working world. Recently, the Fair Chance Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The law prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal history prior to the conditional offer stage.
With this recent law, the White House is joining the 35 states and over 150 cities with similar “ban the box” policies. Such “ban the box” policies help remove barriers for people with criminal records during the hiring process by delaying questions about one’s criminal history from the initial part of the hiring process.
This is a part of a larger criminal justice trend taking shape across both the public and private sectors. Many organizations and corporations, including Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Google, Facebook, and others, signed on to the Fair Chance Pledge launched by the Obama Administration.
Slack, in partnership with the Kellogg Foundation and others, launched Next Chapter, a pilot program designed to help formerly incarcerated individuals succeed in tech. Providing these opportunities to qualified candidates adds stability to workers’ lives and, by extension, helps strengthen communities. That’s a message companies want to get behind, and with good reason.
After all, fair chance hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of their background, should be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for, including those with criminal histories. Candidates that fall into this category are often eager and driven but overlooked for past infractions that may or may not have any connection to the role for which they are applying.
Fair chance hiring lowers recidivism and enables individuals with arrest or conviction records — and their families — to get back on their feet and reintegrated into society. But in my experience, it benefits employers just as much, if not more.
Take my employer, for example. At Checkr, fair chance hiring is deeply embedded into both our culture and our process, which is fulfilling to me on a personal level as a former public service attorney for the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. In terms of hard numbers, about 6 percent of our employees are fair chance, and 72 percent have moved up at Checkr or gone on to new positions elsewhere.
If fair chance hiring is something you’d also like to consider at your organization, here are a few benefits you can expect.
Develop a competitive edge through a broader talent pool. Given how tight today’s job market is — the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the current unemployment rate is hovering around 3.5% — employers can’t afford to turn away qualified applicants. And because one in three American adults has a criminal record, automatically excluding anyone in this category necessarily means that you are missing out on good people. A broader talent pool means better, stronger hires, which in turn gives you a valuable competitive advantage.
Diversify your employee base. In America, the burden of incarceration is borne disproportionately by underrepresented minorities. When companies hire from this talent pool, they’re not just bringing on racial diversity, they’re also opening their doors to people who are likely to have different abilities, education levels and economic statuses. A more diverse team means different perspectives and new ways of looking at challenges, which ultimately lead to creativity, innovation and disruption.
Get a better return on investment. Fair chance hiring practices offer a significant return on investment, both from a performance and retention perspective. In fact, a study of John Hopkins Health Systems & Hospital (which has employed hundreds of people with criminal backgrounds since 2000, making up 5 percent of their workforce) found that, over a four-year period, fair chance employees had a 43 percent higher retention rate than employees without a criminal record.
If you truly incorporate fair chance hiring as part of your corporate mission, the positive effects will astound you. Not only is it the right thing to do, but you will reap rewards far in excess of what you sow through a diversified, loyal, and passionate employee base.
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