Applicants with Criminal Records: The Pros and Cons

Anyone who has spent any time recruiting knows that it is difficult to sift through a pile of applications without finding several job seekers with criminal convictions. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or one in every 31 adults, was in the nation’s prisons or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.   Getting Out of Prison and Into a Job posted by Eve Tahmincioglu highlights the job search difficulties for convicted felons. It also reports that 700,000 people are released from prison annually, two-thirds of which are back in prison within 3 years. Similar demographic facts are compiled by Dr. Ira Wolfe in his book The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 .

Many employers shy away from this pool of available labor even though it might be socially compelling to give someone a "second chance".  Federal and State governments have reacted to this situation by creating tax incentives for employers who hire convicted felons.  A federal tax credit of $2,400 is available for employers who hire ex-felons. Philadelphia offers a $10,000 tax incentive. Both programs have minimum employment periods.

Employers must weigh the following with regard to applicants with criminal convictions:

  • Prohibited Employment: State and federal laws may prohibit employment of a convicted felon in certain jobs such as financial services, teaching, adult and childcare, law enforcement, etc.
  • Negligent Hire:  Many states recognize legal claims by customers and employees when an employer negligently hires an employee when the employer knew or should have known that the employee would pose a safety risk to others. Applicants with criminal convictions for violent crimes may fall into this category.
  • Disparate Impact Discrimination: The EEOC’s guidance on the consideration of arrest records notes that blanket exclusions from hiring will likely have an adverse impact on minorities. Employers should establish a business justification for use of criminal record by evaluating the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, and the requirements of the job sought.
  • Limitations on the Use of Criminal History: Section 9125 of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act states that felony and misdemeanor convictions may be considered by an employer only to the extent to which they relate to the applicant's suitability for employment in the position for which he has applied. Employers must give a rejected applicant written notice that the criminal conviction was used in whole or in part as the basis for the employment decision.
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