What Employers Must Know About Hiring Employees With a Criminal History

Hiring a convicted felon isn’t what most businesses set out to do. In fact, most companies would prefer to hire people who will be soon nominated for sainthood, which leaves candidates with a criminal record out. Employers need to keep in mind, though, that many saints have checkered pasts and so may some of your best employees. Here’s what you need to know about hiring employees with a criminal history.

What Is Ban the Box?

Most job applications have a box that applicants check off to say whether or not they have any felony or misdemeanor convictions. But, 25 states and several cities have passed “ban-the-box” laws. Some additional states have “fair chance” legislation, which means that you can’t ask the applicant about convictions on a job application.

Individual state laws vary, so double check your state or other governmental jurisdiction’s laws before you ask a person to fill out an application. As a general rule, ban the box means that you can’t ask about any convictions until you get to the job offer stage of the selection process.

The Purpose of Ban-the-Box Laws

What’s the purpose behind these laws? The state has a vested interest in getting people with a criminal history working—having a job reduces the chance of recidivism. If you want to lower crime, you want people working instead of returning to their bad ways.

But the other reason for ban-the-box laws is to stop discrimination against black men. However, research has shown that this may not be working as desired—since employers can’t ask about criminal history, they are less likely to interview black and Hispanic candidates.

Researchers looked at low-skilled men between the ages of 25 to 34 and determined that “in ban-the-box areas…   employers are less likely to interview young, low-skilled black men because those groups are more likely to include ex-offenders. They instead focus on hiring groups made up of men they believe are less likely to have gone to prison.”

So, while the laws may help actual convicts, they can adversely affect low-skilled black men who have no criminal history.

When Can You Ask About a Person’s Criminal History?

In all states, you can ask about felony convictions before you actually hire an employee. The ban-the-box legislation just prevents you from asking about criminal history before you’re ready to make an offer. When you’re ready to make an offer you can do a background check which involves asking about any convictions.

Can You Reject an Applicant Because of a Criminal History?

The answer to this question is sometimes. Some convictions prevent you from having certain types of jobs altogether. For instance, if you run a daycare, you absolutely can and must reject convicted child sexual abusers. That’s an easy decision. In other areas, the decision is not so cut and dried.

Rejecting people based on their criminal history may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s Title VII. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that there are two key points when considering how to treat convicted job candidates. They say:

  1. Title VII prohibits employers from treating people with similar criminal records differently because of their race, national origin, or another Title VII-protected characteristic (which includes color, sex, and religion).
  2. Title VII prohibits employers from using policies or practices that screen individuals based on criminal history information if:
    • They significantly disadvantage Title VII-protected individuals such as African Americans and Hispanics; AND
    • They do not help the employer accurately decide if the person is likely to be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee.

Ban-the-box legislation is an attempt to comply with the first part of this (although, it’s not working), but what about the second part? First, you can’t assume an arrest means a person committed a crime that would disqualify the person from the job.

If your candidate has a conviction, you can consider that they committed the crime of which they were convicted. If there is simply an arrest, you can use that to start an inquiry into whether or not the person should be disqualified.

How Do You Determine Whether to Hire a Candidate With a Criminal History?

But, how do you determine if the convicted person is “likely to be a responsible, reliable, or safe employee”? That’s going to vary based on state laws,  but here are some general guidelines.

  • Treat people of different races/genders the same. If you go ahead and hire a white man with a drug conviction because it was “just a youthful indiscretion” and then reject a black man with a similar conviction you’re violating the law.
  • How long has it been since the conviction? If the job candidate has a conviction for shoplifting from six months ago, you can make a strong argument that this is not a trustworthy individual. If that conviction occurred 20 years ago, however, and no repeat convictions have occurred—not so much.
  • How does the conviction relate to the job? You can reject a person who embezzled from a previous employer as your company’s comptroller, but probably not for a job as a landscaper with no access to funds.
  • Did you give the candidate a chance to explain himself? If a candidate has a conviction that you say disqualifies him for the position, the EEOC requires you to give the person a chance to “demonstrate that the exclusion should not be applied due to his particular circumstances.” This means that you’ll have to sit down and listen to what the candidate has to say and perhaps collect some additional information.

Always Consult With Your Attorney About Hiring Employees With a Criminal History

If you wish to reject a job candidate based on a conviction, before you do so, please consult with your employment law attorney. Because state and even local laws can vary considerably, you can’t make generalized judgments on what you think is best for your business. You need to ensure that you have followed the law precisely and that you aren’t violating Title VII in any way.

Many companies skip consulting with their attorney because that discussion costs money. But, it’s considerably cheaper to pay for an initial consultation than to have to pay for the resulting lawsuit. Remember, even lawsuits that you win are incredibly expensive to litigate.

For jobs with state licensing, use the licensing procedures as your guidelines. If the licensing agency allows the person to have a license with that particular conviction, you should most likely (consult with your attorney) not consider rejecting the candidate because of that conviction either.

When trying to decide how you want to shape your policy regarding convicted felons, consider the true nature of your business. Does your business require actual saints or are normal humans enough?

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.­­

Did you know that 85% of resumes contain lies?

It’s not surprising some job applicants feel the need to embellish their resumes to get a better shot at a job. But the exact number — now 85% — has risen dramatically over the past few years. 

Resume lies have become so common that a lot of dishonest applicants are going undetected. Whether this is due to increasing pressure to fill positions quickly or trusting HR pros, a survey by SimplyHired discovered that 46% of hiring managers fail to check references, and 65% don’t verify a candidate’s education.

Even more shockingly, 16% of those surveyed don’t have time to read the whole resume, and 34% just skim over the cover letter.

This means there’s a pretty good chance a lot of applicants have gotten away with a lie, so they’re going to keep trying.

Why candidates really lie

While any lie seems devious, it’s a misconception that every resume exaggerator is trying to con their way into a job they aren’t qualified for. Some candidates are resorting to fudging the truth out of frustration, and not necessarily intentional deception.

More and more applicants are aware that companies use screening software to automatically eliminate resumes that don’t contain certain keywords or don’t meet minimum requirements. This often results in candidates never hearing back about a position and not getting a real shot at a job.

To prevent themselves from being weeded out right from the get-go, candidates will tweak their resumes to better fit a position by including as many keywords or requirements as they can.

Tammy Cohen, founder of InfoMart, a company that specializes in screening job candidates, thinks some companies’ job descriptions can be the cause of applicants’ embellishments. Unsurprisingly, job postings are often written in a creative, eye-catching way to attract more applicants. To match this style, candidates often jazz up their own resumes to appear to be a good fit for the position.

While small exaggerations can be relatively harmless, some candidates blatantly lie about crucial aspects of the resume.

Here are the top things job seekers lie about, according to a survey by OfficeTeam:

  • job experience (76%)
  • job duties (55%)
  • education (33%), and
  • employment dates (26%).

What to look for

Obviously, big lies in these areas are ones HR pros definitely want to catch. And OfficeTeam has compiled a list of several red flags that can be indicators of dishonesty, along with how hiring managers can find out the truth.

  1. Their skills have vague descriptions. When a candidate is trying to stretch out their list of skills, they may start listing items with phrases like “familiar with” or “involved with.” If someone is “familiar with HTML,” that could mean they took one class in high school and can barely remember anything. If a candidate was “involved with compiling sales reports,” they very well could’ve watched as others on their team did the heavy lifting. Also, watch out for any duties or titles that don’t really make sense — does it seem like a candidate is using more creative words to describe simple tasks?
    The Fix: To make sure candidates have the concrete skills they claim, skills tests can be used as part of the hiring process. To get an even better idea if their skills are up to snuff, you can give the candidate a job audition or hire them on a temporary basis.
  2. Their employment dates are questionable or missing. When a candidate has previous job dates listed by the year instead of month, it can be an attempt to lengthen stints and hide periods of unemployment.
    The Fix: Directly asking candidates what the months of their employment were can help clear this up if they answer truthfully. This can also give them a chance to explain any long gaps in their resumes, too. But if you still sense an applicant isn’t being honest with you, calling references to confirm employment dates is crucial.
  3. Their body language is off during the interview. If a candidate isn’t making eye contact or keeps fidgeting in their chair, this could be an indication of dishonesty. Be careful with this one, though. These could simply be signs of an anxious applicant, not an untruthful one.
    The Fix: If the person is particularly fidgety while discussing a certain part of their resume, keep asking about it. If they can’t seem to answer your questions, they probably exaggerated their skills or experience. It’s also a good idea to ask others who met the candidate if they felt anything was off about the person’s behavior.

A long-term fix

While these tips from OfficeTeam can help you catch resume fibs as you go, there may be something you can do to reduce the amount of candidates who feel the need to lie.

If you use screening software to eliminate applicants who don’t meet certain requirements, examine those keywords and criteria. Are they so essential to the position that anyone without them should be immediately out of the running? Ask yourself if it’s possible a good candidate could be missing a skill or two. If the answer is yes, change those settings.

And as time-consuming as it would be to screen applicants without software, consider it. Candidates would be much more willing to tell the truth from the beginning if they knew a computer wouldn’t automatically weed them out.

Not all lies are created equal

So once you’ve caught a candidate in a lie … what do you do?

Obviously, some resume fibs are more serious than others. It’s up to you to decide what to do.

We suggest focusing on what you really need out of the candidate. If they embellished on an unimportant aspect of the resume, but have the qualifications where it counts, it could be worth overlooking the lie.

Some lies should take the candidate out of the running immediately. Big things, like applicants lying about their education or positions they’ve had, clearly show they’re not trustworthy.

4 Hiring Challenges Facing Small Business Owners

Hiring professional talent in today’s market can be extremely difficult. Find out why it can be so tough for companies, while also learning how to deal with the stress of finding the right candidates.

For many small business owners, the last few years have been the best of times. As the economy has grown, their businesses have grown. New clients have appeared, and existing clients have increased orders. Growth is exciting.

As companies grow, however, they often need to hire new people for positions that did not previously exist. Suddenly, a function needs to be professionalized. Ten years ago a company could promote a warehouse worker to a shipping supervisor role, but after years of expansion, the business needs a supply chain manager to handle the more complex relationships that stem from a growing company. A decade ago, an office manager could double as a personnel manager at a 25-employee company. With 120 staff members today, that same firm needs at least a professional HR manager, if not a director.

Unless properly managed, these hiring projects could lead to the worst of times. For a business owner, hiring professional talent in today’s market can be problematic. Here are a few reasons why hiring can cause a headache for small businesses, and how to help your business stand out in the hiring process.

It’s a tight market

With a 4 percent unemployment rate, there is a limited pool of unemployed job candidates. Your ideal hire might be working somewhere else and needs a reason to quit their job and work for you. When a promising talent is not looking for work, they need to be identified and attracted to your company.

Employers have built stronger cultures

Since the last recession, most companies, large and small, have improved their culture and business. In 2008, a candidate might have been eager to escape a horrible boss or bad culture. Thankfully, there are fewer of both now, but relying on another company to be worse than yours is a bad strategy.

The skills you want reside in larger firms

In the past, small companies could attract talent from larger firms by emphasizing work flexibility and a family atmosphere. Over the years, most large companies have invested a fortune in work-life balance alternatives, as well as other bells and whistles. Don’t expect a candidate to take a pay cut to work at a smaller firm just because you won’t make them use a vacation day for a child’s doctor visit. Realistically, is that worth $10,000 less in salary and a cut in a 401(k) match?

Candidates have options

The traditional mindset is that a candidate applies for a job – basically asking an employer to consider them. In reality, the balance of power has now shifted. Employers ask the candidate to join them. Many small companies let their egos get in the way of this newfound practice. They think the candidate needs to show they want the job and make some type of sacrifice. This is a self-defeating philosophy, especially when a candidate is considering multiple employers. The choice is not between a candidate’s existing employer and your company. It is between the existing employer and any of two, three or five companies that will appear over the next few months. In a good economy, everyone grows. Other companies have grown and need the same skilled candidates as you.

The solution

The first thing you need to do is create a clear message for attracting talented candidates. If your team can’t answer the question, “Why should I quit my job and work for you?” then you need to revisit your message and, potentially, your team members. The answer can’t be “because we are nice people.” It needs to be a clearly defined message.

The second step is determining the type of person you want to hire. Attributes like experience level, current job and the type of company or industry someone is currently working in should all be analyzed and considered. Select and define the factors most important to your business. Identify your market, and then figure out a way to get that message to your market. Ads, recruitment firms and aggressive referral programs are all useful tools.

Lastly, have an employment process that is candidate friendly. Don’t make a candidate leave work in the middle of the day for a half-hour screening interview. Don’t have an interviewer who thinks it is their job to ask questions but not answer them. Engage with the candidate. If you don’t do that with them now, they will project that behavior onto themselves as a potential employee and stop the hiring process before it ever really gets started.

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