Would you hire someone with a criminal history?

  • 2/1/2017
  • Kevin Rosenquist
Would you hire someone with a criminal history? image
I read a solid article on the SHRM website about evaluating applicants with criminal histories and it inspired me to throw a few things your way in relation to this topic. It brought up some great points. It’s easy for HR managers and business owners to dismiss an applicant with a criminal history, particularly when your company has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to misdemeanors and felonies. But consider these few ideas when you evaluate your potential hires who may have a checkered past.

We all make mistakes, right?

Obviously, there are different levels to that statement. If you’re hiring for an accounting position and your applicant was convicted of embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from a former employer that’s probably not something you would consider just a “mistake”. But if you’re looking for a customer service rep and a 26-year-old candidate with great qualifications walks through your door with a marijuana possession misdemeanor conviction on his or her record from when they were 20 would you automatically write them off?

Young people often do stupid things and often get caught because, well, they are often stupid. We all learn from our mistakes, however, and a conviction like this doesn’t necessarily mean they are a danger to your workplace. It’s always good to get more information from the applicant in these situations. Find out what happened.

How far back do you want to go?

Our general practice is to go back seven years for records. The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows for convictions on felonies and misdemeanors to be reported forever although many cities and states have laws limiting the number of years an employer can go back. How long should someone be punished for a crime? In my example above, what if the applicant was 35 instead of 26? Think about what the best policy is as it relates to your company and the types of positions you hire for.

Be careful about bulk data.

The article referenced bulk data and how companies should be careful when using it. Your concern with how to use it depends on how your screening provider handles it, particularly with national criminal database searches. Bulk data is often outdated or even sometimes inaccurate. It can be a great guide at pointing towards potential hits but it’s dangerous to rely on it alone for hiring decisions. We actually don’t report bulk data to our clients. We verify it at the originating court to ensure accuracy.

For example, a potential hit comes up on an applicant in the national database search and lists Clark county, NV as the offense location. (Contrary to popular belief “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” isn’t sufficient enough for a criminal defense.) We would then run a Clark County criminal search which will get records directly from the county, ensuring that the information we have is up to date and accurate. If the county search corroborates the information from the national search we then would report it to our client, as long as it falls within the parameters set by the FCRA and the state of Nevada. If you’re using a different screening company than us check with them to see how they use their bulk data.

The concerns with bulk data also apply when using data from the instant online searches that claim to produce criminal data. The millions(ish) of you who read my blogs know how much I preach against using those sites.

The most important things are to stay educated, have a policy in place, and stay consistent. If you’re unsure of what you should be doing talk to your counsel. Have a plan that speaks to what offenses will take an applicant’s resume off the table.