Everyone makes mistakes. Sure, some are more serious than others are—failing to return a DVD to Netflix is hardly as serious as driving under the influence, after all. But routinely eliminating all job applicants with prior arrests or convictions from your candidate pool is doing your company a disservice for several reasons.
First, you may be missing out on qualified workers; according to the National Employment Law Project, 25 percent of U.S. adults have had an arrest or conviction. Some of the best professionals in your industry are likely among them and simply rejecting based on their employment screening could be a mistake.
And second, you may be leaving your organization vulnerable to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination lawsuits. While federal laws do not prohibit employers from reviewing criminal records for employment screening purposes, it’s essential to do so in a non-discriminatory manner.
What should you consider before hiring (or rejecting) an applicant with a criminal history? Start with the following:
1. Consider the nature and severity of the crime. Keep in mind, an arrest without a conviction is not proof a crime was committed. If an applicant does have a conviction on his or her employment background check, consider the cause. While repeated crimes of a violent nature may mean the candidate is not a good fit for your company, a conviction for driving while under the influence may only be evidence of temporary poor judgment.
2. Consider how the crime committed relates to the job in question. No one expects you to hire a convicted embezzler to run your accounts payable team. Nor are you likely to face a lawsuit for rejecting an applicant with multiple DUIs who has applied for a driver position. However, if that individual were applying for an in-store sales job, it may be another story.
3. Consider how long ago the crime was committed. As we mentioned in the beginning, everyone makes mistakes. Good applicants learn from them. If significant time has passed since the conviction, and no further crimes have been committed, your applicant could be a “good” one.
4. Consider the applicant’s explanation for the circumstances. Before blindly rejecting a previously convicted applicant, make an effort to learn the circumstances of the crime. Send the candidate a pre-adverse action letter (as you would before rejecting someone based on information contained in a credit report) and provide him/her with an opportunity to provide you with further details.
Some locations (cities, counties and states) have local laws in place to limit the use of criminal records during pre-employment screening. While this isn’t to suggest you forgo employment background checks, it would be wise to enlist the assistance of a background check vendor familiar with your local regulations.