September 21, 2021

Small Business Advice

Job applicants who have a criminal record deserve a fair look

Convicted felons often make great employees when given a chance.

Jerry Osteryoung | 6/28/2015

"Do not discriminate against convicted felons with your employment practices! Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former." ~ Horace Man

Most organizations, both for profit and non-profit, ask the following question on their employment applications: Have you ever plead guilty, or no contest or adjudication withheld? Applicants are required to answer yes or no, and many firms will automatically eliminate any applicant who answers yes.

I urge every firm that has a policy like this to reconsider.

Sure, a convicted felon has made a mistake or done something stupid. No one can argue that point. However, these individuals have paid dearly for their actions in many ways that range from the time they lost while incarcerated to the impact on their family and friends.

I am not saying you should not be concerned if an applicant has been convicted of a crime, only that you should consider the type of crime before immediately throwing out a candidate’s application.

For many companies, it is customary to run a criminal background check on newly hired employees or just before an offer is made. This is a fine policy. I just caution companies not to automatically eliminate people from consideration simply because they have been convicted.

Statistics show that 25% of the U.S. population has a conviction in their history. Clearly, if you are not considering felons, you are missing out on a large labor pool.

Furthermore, there is no question in my mind that the majority of these individuals make great employees when they are given a chance. Above and beyond the fact that they do not want to go back to prison, many of them are looking to prove themselves. They want to leave their mistakes behind and be successful.

I know this because I have seen it firsthand. I have personally met convicted murderers who are great employees. Their bosses cannot rave enough about them.

For more than four years now, I have been lucky enough to teach classes at the Gadsden Correctional Facility in Gretna. This has given me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with the women housed there.

Most of these women are incarcerated either because they have an addiction issue or because they did something stupid. They have learned from their mistakes and, once released, will do whatever it takes to ensure they do not go back to prison.

One of the greatest things about our country is that it gives people an opportunity to make something of themselves no matter what is in their pasts. We really need to give convicted felons a second chance.

For all the reasons I have pointed out, discriminating against convicted felons simply because they answered yes to a vague question on an application is a terrible miscarriage. They have already served their time, and I believe penalizing them again on a job application is double jeopardy.

Ban the Box, a campaign to prohibit the use of this question on employment applications, was started in 2004 after a series of Peace and Justice Community Summits. To date, more than 17 states and 100 cities and counties have banned the box, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken steps to prosecute employers that have a ban on hiring people with convictions.

Now go out and make sure you ban the box on your employment application.

You can do this!


Dr. Osteryoung has directly has assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is a bestseller on Amazon.com. He can be reached by e-mail at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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