The Argument for Hiring Employees with a Criminal Record

Arran Stewart

Arran Stewart

Arran James Stewart is the co-founder and CVO of blockchain recruitment …


As lockdowns lift and businesses ramp up their level of activity, many employers find that they’re struggling to find workers . Prospective employees are hesitant to return to work due to fears about COVID-19, low wages, and other factors.

However, there’s one large pool of potential workers who are often overlooked. Companies of all types, including many industry leaders, are discovering the benefits of hiring people with misdemeanor and even felony convictions.

Why should employers consider ex-cons? What’s involved with hiring, training, and working with people with criminal records? Here’s a closer look.

Benefits for Hiring Individuals with a Criminal History

While hiring someone with a criminal record might seem like a risk, there are actually several potential benefits for employers.

Tax Benefits to the Company

Employers who hire convicted felons are eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit . It provides tax incentives for businesses that hire ex-cons, disabled veterans, and other demographics who face challenges finding employment.

If an employee works up to at least 120 hours per year, the employer can claim a 25% tax credit on their wages. If they work over 400 hours, the tax credit increases to 40%. There’s no limit to the number of workers an employer can hire under the WOTC program.

A Larger Pool of Applicants to Fill Open Positions

One in every three adults has a criminal record, which is approximately 77 million people . It’s a large pool of potential applicants with a diverse array of skills and experience.

Additionally, because vocational training is available in many prisons, many ex-cons are released with more marketable skills than what they had when they entered.

Company Loyalty

Ex-cons often have difficulty finding employment. When someone with a criminal record does land a good job, they often reward their employer by staying in the position for a long time. Employers who provide decent wages and a fair, stable work environment help foster loyalty in any ex-cons they hire.

5 Considerations for Hiring Applicants with a Felony or Misdemeanor Record

Not every person with a criminal record is a good fit for every type of job. Before hiring, consider the following.

1. How Long Ago Did the Conviction Occur?

First, consider what the conviction was for and how long ago the crime occurred. Someone who committed a non-violent crime when they were young, but has led a law-abiding life well into middle age, is far less of a risk than someone who committed serious crimes just a few years ago.

The US recidivism rate is about 77% for state crimes, and 45% for federal crimes, within five years of release. While that sounds high when discussing large groups, those statistics can be useful when considering an individual hire. If someone passes the five-year mark without getting into trouble, the odds suggest they might have turned their life around permanently.

2. How Does the Conviction Relate to the Job?

Aside from considering how long ago the crime occurred, you also want to look at the specific type of conviction. For many employers, the biggest distinction is between violent and non-violent crimes. However, even then, you’ll want to consider the specific circumstance.

Of course, some convictions are essentially an automatic disqualification from certain jobs. Anyone convicted of sexual misconduct shouldn’t work around children. A person convicted of embezzlement shouldn’t handle company funds. If the crime directly contradicts the job functions, you likely have a legitimate legal reason for passing on the applicant.

3. Listen to Their Side of the Story

All states allow employers to ask applicants questions about a criminal conviction. You should sit and talk with an applicant before rejecting them outright.

You might be surprised by what the person has to say. Maybe they grew up in a neighborhood where selling drugs was practically the only viable way to earn money. Maybe they were involved in a terrible accident. Talking to the applicant helps you discover any mitigating circumstances to their crime.

Of course, you don’t have to take everything they say at face value. As with any applicant, you can conduct background checks during the hiring process and compare what you find to the information they’ve provided. Even if you don’t end up hiring the person, talking to them before making that decision generally helps protect you legally.

4. How Reliable Are They?

Prisoners live a life of routine. Upon release, many of them find comfort in the routine of a regular job. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should run your company like a prison! Instead, consider that your ex-con employees might thrive in an environment with steady hours and clear expectations.

Employees on parole or who live in structured, halfway house environments can also be very reliable. If they’re in a situation that requires monitoring, they’re less likely to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or otherwise committing crimes.

5. Why Do They Want the Job?

Finally, ask the employee why they want to work for your company. You can usually tell fairly quickly whether the person is truly interested in what your company offers or if they only want a job to satisfy release requirements.

Many people with criminal records are extremely grateful to any employer willing to give them a chance. Plus, they might have a high level of skill in your industry, possibly even due to the education they received while serving time.

When considering potential hires who have criminal convictions, you must always follow all applicable federal and state laws. For instance, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission clarifies that employers can’t reject potential hires with similar criminal records based on protected characteristics, such as race.

Always consult with legal counsel before rejecting an applicant with a criminal record, as a fine line exists between not hiring due to a lack of qualifications versus discrimination. Fortunately, many applicants with criminal records can wind up as productive, reliable assets to a wide range of companies.