Checking off background checks

People like ex-con Steven Gordon will have a difficult time getting a job if the Society for Human Resource Management's 2010 survey is any guide. In SHRM's survey, 92 percent said they conduct background checks on all or some job candidates. Of those that do, 95 percent say that a conviction for a violent felony would be very influential in their decision not to extend a job offer.

That's been Gordon's situation, even though he's got decades of experience as a food service manager. Read more about him by clicking here.

On Thursday, City Council will likely pass ban the box legislation. The box being banned is the one on most job applications that asks about criminal history. Under the city's ordinance, most employers will not be able to try to discover an applicant's criminal record until after the first interview. You can read my story about the ordinance in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

One of the people I quoted was Michael Aitken, SHRM's director of governmental affairs. Employers, he said, "should be allowed to continue to make an informed hiring decision." But, as a practical matter, many wait until later in the hiring process because criminal checks are expensive. 

In his opinion, most larger employers won't be affected by this type of bill because they'll conduct the checks as needed, but smaller employers may rely on the honesty of the job candidate to screen potential employees.

Aitken points out that most states have some statutes specifying how employers can consider criminal backgrounds. The U.S. Equal Employment Commission also has its guidance. Read yesterday's blog post to learn more.

"There are statutes that exist, but whether employers are being vigilant, whether the statutes are being enforced and whether employees are aware of all of their rights, I don’t know," he said.

So, back to the survey: Three of four employers will find a conviction for a non-violent felony, such as fraud or embezzlement, very influential in a decision not to hire. It's more of a mixed bag for misdemeanors, particularly non-violent ones. Seven in 10 say that arrests that don't lead to convictions are not very influential or not at all influential in their hiring decisions.

What else matters: The more severe the crime, the less likely they are to hire. The more convictions, the fewer the job offers. The younger the offender, the less likely it is for the crime to count against them. And the longer the applicant is crime free, the better it is. Three in four say they find the relevance of the conviction to the position to very influential in their decision making.

Two thirds of the employers surveyed said they allow candidates to explain their criminal records before a hiring decision is reached, but one in 10 simply aren't interested.

Why conduct checks? Creating a safer work environment for other employees and reducing legal liability for negligent hiring are the top two reasons. Less important is preventing theft, complying with state law and assessing the candidate's overall trustworthiness. (That's interesting -- cover your you-know-what is big!)

All this is well and good, but the way Gordon explained it in a blog item I wrote about him on Monday is this: If society doesn't find a way to employ people like him, many will return to jail. That's expensive and unproductive.

"Where are the second chances?"