The employer perspective on hiring individuals with a criminal record have shifted, driven either by the belief that everyone deserves a second chance or the practicality of the nation’s historically tight labor market.
Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia have “banned the box” – meaning hiring applications can’t ask if individuals have a criminal record – and today only 14 percent of HR professionals say they won’t hire a former felon.
America’s progress on this issue deserves applause, but it’s critical that we keep this momentum going. And that’s not as simple as just changing a law.
Employers are worried about recidivism among former prisoners. One detailed, long-term study of former state inmates found two-thirds of released prisoners were arrested in the first three years after their release from prison. These risks can be reduced by positive factors like having a stable lifestyle, engaging job and supportive peer group. But, even the most beneficent employer will understand there are additional concerns that can come with hiring former prisoners.
The pre-hire background check, which is only as good as the day it was run, isn’t enough. Organizations need a system that goes well beyond; a system that offers them dynamic insights via real-time events. They need a system that ensures employees whose bad choices might put them in a position to cause harm to the company are quickly discovered by leadership, and they need a system anchored on employee consent. Such a non-intrusive capability, often referred to as continuous evaluation, can identify not only clear infractions of policy, but known factors that can work against the individual’s desire to move forward.
How it works boils down to basic human nature. When you look at what prompts someone to commit a crime, there’s almost always a reason, a motivation. And usually, those reasons cause a noticeable, stress-induced change in someone’s behavior long before they take any potentially harmful action.
Continuous evaluation can pick up and make note of these signs, giving an employer the ability to intervene in negative behaviors that take place after the initial background check and before something serious happens to the individual or their organization. Once alerted to concerning employee behavior, employers can unlock multiple organizational support mechanisms, including having HR speak to the individual about the potential cause. Maybe it’s because money is tight, maybe it’s because they’re reengaging with prior, high-risk social networks, or maybe it’s because they’re struggling with depression or addiction.
As featured in a NPR article, that’s what happened to Robby Grant. It was his addiction that prompted him to steal, and stealing was the offense that landed him in jail. Had his employer known that Mr. Grant was struggling, they could have alerted HR and proactively referred him to a resource capable of helping him get sober before things escalated to the illegal point they did. Efforts like this can make a real difference in someone’s life, and from a business standpoint, they can be beneficial for the organization by increasing its retention of valuable workers.
Continuous evaluation platforms also benefit other employees. Some have a self-reporting and anonymous peer-reporting feature that does two things. First, it enables employees going through a difficult time to conveniently and securely ask for help before they reach their breaking point, or, if they are unfortunately arrested, to share their side of the story early. This is especially important considering authorities aren’t required to alert employers of certain offenses involving their employees.
Second, it allows for employees to play a more active role in ensuring their workplace is safe and conducive to productivity. Without fear of repercussion from a coworker that’s distracting them, making them feel uncomfortable, or, worse, harassing or bullying them, employees can take it upon themselves to alert HR to problematic behaviors.
At the same time, continuous evaluation also protects and supports employees with previous criminal backgrounds. Continuous evaluation platforms help employers and HR keep track of offenses, reports and documented action. This kind of track record reduces the likelihood of something being overlooked and forgotten, and it establishes a precedent for how certain situations are handled. This way, there is consistency in the company’s responses to particular employee actions, independent of whether someone has a criminal history.
In sum, continuous evaluation provides the security and the push employers need to hire individuals with a criminal record. Continuous evaluation enables employers to truly be both fair and equitable, and it’s through continuous evaluation that individuals – with the support of their employer – will be given the second chance and assistance they need to do things right this time around.