Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Does your organization have a company policy against hiring felons? Many businesses do, but they could be missing out on not only giving individuals a second shot at life–but also bringing more money into their organizations with significant tax credits.
As a background screening company, we know how important it is that you hire the best and brightest available. But hear us out. Here are five reasons you should consider hiring felons for some of your open positions.
1. People Make Mistakes.
Who among us hasn’t made a mistake? While all of us may not have committed a felony, we can all empathize with others who have done something wrong. Consider the story of Marcella White. After her father’s death when she was 15, Marcella incurred some non-violent felonies, landing her in jail for less than a month. Four decades later, she was denied senior housing due to these indiscretions, despite the fact she hasn’t been in any legal trouble since that time. In our opinion, Marcella would make a perfect job candidate, despite her past.
2. Not All Felonies are Equal.
That brings us to our next point–not all felonies are equal. While people like Marcella committed nonviolent crimes, there are violent felonies that cannot be ignored, including theft, murder, rape and child molestation, to name a few. But sometimes a charge may have nothing to do with the person the candidate is today or no impact on the potential position. For example, if a 18-year-old gets involved in a prank gone wrong and gets charged with vandalism (a felony), that will follow him for years. But would that actually have any impact on a desk job? Even “public drunkenness” (a felony in some states) can be overlooked if the person has been clean for years and passes regular drug tests.
DUIs are one of the most common types of felonies we see. DUIs are considered felonies in most states if the driver is involved in an accident that leads to injury or harm–even if it’s only a minor injury to the person driving or in the passenger seat. While this is a serious offense, should it bar a person from employment in a non-driving position? That’s for your organization to determine.
3. Government Tax Credits.
Here’s where the monetary value domes in. The United States Department of Labor offers the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), a federal tax credit available to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups (including convicted felons) who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.
A new hire meets the criteria for the ex-felon category, if the individual:
Has been convicted of a felony;
Has a hiring date of no more than 1 year after the conviction or release from prison.
The maximum tax credit ranges from $1,200 to $9,600, depending on the employee being hired. To break this down, for each new ex‐felon hired, the credit is 25 percent of qualified first‐year wages for those employed at least 120 hours, or $1,500, and 40 percent for those employed 400 hours or more, or $2,400.There is no limit to the number of “new” ex‐felons an employer can hire to benefit from these tax savings. Additionally, some states and local jurisdictions have additional incentives, so be sure to check in your local area.
4. You May be in Hot Water for having a ‘Do Not Hire” Policy.
Even if you fully believe that felons aren’t a fit for your company, the federal government (and your state government) feels differently. Employment discrimination against people with criminal records has been illegal since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To avoid any issues with your background check policy (and to avoid any EEOC, FTC, or other similar lawsuits) you must look at each case independently and make informed decisions based on reviewing the facts.
EEOC Guidelines Include the Following Statements Related to Criminal Records:
Employers may not ask about convictions on job applications. Inquiries should be limited to convictions for which exclusion would be related to the position itself.
Employers should avoid policies that automatically exclude individuals from employment based on specific criteria (such as criminal status) -especially “blanket exclusion” policies.
Organizations should avoid hiring practices that result in negatively impacting a protected group (including convicted felons). Organizations should regularly investigate whether their background screening practices could adversely impact any particular group.
Employers should be cautious about excluding employees from the hiring process based on their criminal records, especially if a criminal offense is unrelated to the job.
Employers should consider other factors relative to the conviction including the facts or circumstances of the offense/conduct, the number of offenses for which the individual has been convicted, when the convictions occurred, the length and consistency of employment history before and after offense, personal references, and rehabilitation efforts.
Organizations should give all applicants a chance to explain their criminal records.
Furthermore, organizations should be aware that when using criminal records to exclude applicants, they may also be focusing on race without their knowledge. Typically, refusal to hire convicts disproportionately impacts African American men.
5. Felons Could be Some of Best Employees.
Felons who are given a chance to work with you are generally very thankful that you have looked past their records and chosen to hire them anyway. They often appreciate the work they have been given and repay you with impressive effort to show their gratitude.
Most convicted felons have heard a wide variety of reasons why they “aren’t the right fit for the position” or can’t be hired based on their legal past. Sometimes this decision isn’t based on the crime itself, but the fear of how the C-suite or other employees in the organization will perceive the hire; however, giving a candidate with a felony conviction a fresh chance may be all that is needed to get your next great employee.
While many organizations have concerns about hiring felons and ex-convicts, employers should ensure that they are in compliance with anti-discrimination laws when creating their hiring policies. Additionally, you should always treat each case individually, giving each candidate the opportunity to explain his/her situation thoroughly.