Inclusive Workplaces Include Second Chances

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When it comes to workplace culture—as SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is fond of saying—“Who we hire is who we are.”

So what can we say about employers who actively recruit and hire people with criminal histories? That they will win the war for talent.

In this low-unemployment environment, businesses are struggling to find workers to fill trade and highly skilled jobs. By excluding qualified workers from jobs based solely on their criminal backgrounds, employers are not only taking away the dignity of work for these men and women, they’re hurting themselves in the process.

Not everyone with a criminal record is a career criminal.  Many people with a record have made a single mistake. And of the almost 700,000 people released from prison each year, most were convicted of non-violent crimes.

Research continuously shows us that former inmates who find gainful employment are much less likely to reoffend. And when we reduce recidivism, we break the back-to-prison cycle that disrupts the lives of so many individuals, families and their communities.

The HR profession is on board. Nearly half of HR practitioners in the U.S. believe having a criminal history should not be a deciding factor in hiring.  But we aren’t seeing this in practice due in part to uncertainty around employer policies regarding hiring workers with criminal records, or no formal policies at all.

That is the purpose behind SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, which calls on business leaders to adopt inclusive hiring practices giving men and women who are qualified a fair chance to bring their much-needed skills back into the workplace.

The initiative asks employers to pledge to consider these candidates and provides a toolkit with the information they need to reduce uncertainty around issues like: when to ask about a criminal record during the hiring process; state and federal regulations; and types of convictions to consider based on the job.

When it comes to hiring people with criminal records, companies are understandably concerned about safety, their assets and their public image. But today, many HR professionals are finding that the best approach to hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds is not so different from the one they use for everyone else: to evaluate each candidate on his or her merits and their contributions to the company culture.

At a time when unemployment is at a record low, and businesses are struggling to find qualified talent, employers can’t afford to continue shutting out this untapped talent pool of able workers. It’s time we stop punishing men and women who have already served their time and give those who are qualified a second chance at stable employment.