It isn’t easy getting a job when you have a criminal record. Thousands of returning citizens struggle to re-enter the workforce after leaving prison, and it’s not just because of their own abilities or work history: Companies can be wary of hiring candidates who have served time, and many rule them out completely.
With the help of new laws, that is changing. For example, more than 150 cities and 35 states have instituted “ban-the-box” laws, which prohibit companies from asking about criminal records on employment applications.
And a growing number of companies are instituting inclusive, fair-chance hiring programs of their own. Among them is the background screening company Checkr, which is committed to keeping the percentage of workers with conviction records on its payrolls above 5 percent.
“It was a topic early on for our founding team when we saw otherwise qualified individuals being eliminated from consideration for jobs,” says Margie Lee-Johnson, Checkr’s VP of People. “Our CEO decided that we were going to have a mission, and that mission was going to be becoming a fair-chance employer and promoting fair-chance employment.”
Here’s why Checkr believes in fair-chance hiring in such a big way:
It Widens the Candidate Pool
Nearly one in three adults has a prior arrest or conviction record, according to the National Employment Law Project. That’s a huge pool of potential candidates to ignore, especially with unemployment at near-record lows.
“If you’re passing on people for a conviction that’s 20 years old, or one that has nothing at all to do with the role that you’re filling, you’re missing out on good talent. That’s just not a good business model,” says Rehana Lerandeau, Checkr’s fair-chance program manager. And quality isn’t an issue, Lerandeau says: “Our fair-chance talent performs on par with or exceeds their peers.”
It Inspires Loyalty
Not only does fair-chance hiring open up a wider pool of potential job candidates, but it may also reduce turnover. One study found that while there was no difference in firing rates between those with a criminal record and other workers, the former were less likely to quit their jobs. That lower turnover, and the reduction of costs associated with hiring replacements, could save employers $1,000 per position, the study found.
Lee-Johnson notes that employees hired through the fair-chance program at Checkr have a higher promotion rate and higher retention rate than other employees. Plus, workers as a whole support the program, which has become an integral and appreciated part of company culture.
“There’s a general sense among our employees that not only is Checkr a great company to work for, but they’re also motivated and inspired to work for a company that’s so focused on a mission,” Lee-Johnson says.
It Brings a New Dimension to Diversity
We take for granted these days that having a diverse workforce is good for business. And in recent years the conversation around diversity and inclusion has expanded to include not just race and gender but many other aspects of background and identity, including age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, socioeconomic status, and more.
People with criminal records bring a unique and valuable perspective to the workplace, making their team and their company stronger—just like employees from any other underrepresented group. Fair-chance talent at Checkr has also improved the company’s diversity in terms of both race and age.
Rather than viewing a criminal record as an automatic disqualifier for employment, smart businesses consider it just one factor in an applicant’s profile. Fair-chance hiring not only makes a difference in the lives of the individuals who benefit from it, but it’s a worthy move from a corporate responsibility perspective as well. As Lee-Johnson says, “It’s become a pretty universal theme at Checkr that people rally behind this mission and see this as the right thing to do.”