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6 Tips for Using Criminal Records in Hiring Decisions

Source: SHRM/Lewis Maltby, President, National Workrights Institute

The following steps will help employers make informed choices regarding applicants with records.

  1. Don’t ask about criminal records on the application
    A criminal record is a stigma. The best way to minimize the stigma is to learn about the record as late in the hiring process as possible, when it can be considered in the context of the rest of the applicant’s information. This is legally required in a growing number of states and cities and is a good business practice in any location.
  2. Conduct an Individualized Assessment
    Finding a relevant conviction is the beginning of the process, not the end. Employers need to consider the applicant’s entire record, of which the conviction is only one component. In some cases, someone with a record will have assets such as training, work experience, or outstanding references that make them, overall, the strongest applicant.
  3. Consider only convictions and pending prosecutions
    Americans are considered innocent until they are proven guilty. Employers should not consider arrests unless the prosecution is still pending, and the crime is job-related. A qualified background checking company should be able to determine whether an arrest with no disposition is still pending.
  4. Consider only convictions that are relevant to the job in question
    Not all convictions create a risk in every job. A DUI conviction presents a risk in a job driving a motor vehicle; a theft conviction presents a risk in a job involving unsupervised access to cash or property that easily be converted into cash. The critical question is “does this job present an opportunity for the type of behavior involved in the conviction?”
  5. Consider only convictions recent enough to create a risk
    The longer a person goes without committing a new offense, the less likely it is that they will do so. Eventually, they are no more likely to commit a new offense than a person with no prior convictions. The length of time required before the risk is gone varies with type of offense and the age at which it was committed. In general, this ranges from approximately three to ten years.
  6. Give the applicant an opportunity to review the record
    Large reporting databases make errors; and context matters. Before making a no-hire decision give the applicant a chance to review the report to identify any incorrect information or provide relevant context. A sexual assault conviction, for example, may have resulted from a teenage boy having consensual sex with a girlfriend who was under the age of consent.