Should we forgive criminal history?

I once interviewed for a second shift factory job, a man who had a six year gap in his work history. When I refused to continue the interview until he filled in that gap, he said, “But if I tell you, you won’t hire me.” At my insistence, he eventually admitted that he had been in prison, doing time for the rape of a co-worker. He had been working in a factory on the second shift at the time.

He was correct, I didn’t hire him. Like many felons he did need a second chance, but he wasn’t going to get it at the possible expense of the safety of our current employees.

But if you don’t possess expert interviewing experience and skills, how do you know the applicant is a convicted felon? You check the references and do a thorough background check.

There are several things you need to do on the way to completing the references and background check.

  • Be sure to include permissions in your application for employment. Once the job seeker has signed the application, you have the permissions you need. If you don’t include these permissions in the application itself, you’ll need to create separate forms for signature, and that creates a lot of extra paperwork.
  • Most of your references will be done by telephone, so develop a brief form with the questions you need, then be sure you use the same form for every reference call.
  • On the background check, make sure you use a service that can give you coverage in every state where the applicant has lived for a nominal fee. Many felons–in fact, most felons–move away from the state where they committed their crime, so unless you broaden your search you may miss some things.

But back to the original question: Should we forgive criminal history? I believe the answer is no. Business owners and managers, HR staff, and current employees need to know that their newly hired co-workers can be trusted, that they need not fear harm, and that their workplace is safe. That is just not possible when working with someone who assaulted, raped, killed, embezzled, robbed or otherwise harmed someone.

Felons deserve a second, and even third chance. But frankly, if I own my own business or manage a business for someone else, or am responsible for any part of workplace safety, they need to find those second or third chances elsewhere. I simply cannot take a chance.

For more information about interviewing, checking references, doing background checks or any other phase of the hiring process, check out my latest book. Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits, Second Edition,.

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About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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