1 in 3 Americans have some type of criminal record affecting their chances of getting a job. Hiring former felons or hiring employees with criminal records can be a confusing path to navigate.

Research shows that hiring former felons is good for business because they tend to be more loyal and have higher performance rates than other employees.

Here are 5 best practices for hiring formerly incarcerated people.

1. Create “Second Chance Programs” for felons

Creating a Second Chance hiring program is another great way to support the recruitment of former felons. Second Chance laws and acts vary from state to state, but the U.S. Congress also passed the Second Chance Act of 2007, a country-wide grant program:

The Second Chance Act of 2007

“To reauthorize the grant program for reentry of offenders into the community in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, to improve reentry planning and implementation, and for other purposes.

The purpose of the Second Chance Act is to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and assist states and communities to address the growing population of inmates returning to communities. The focus has been placed on four areas: jobs, housing, substance abuse/mental health treatment and families.”

Wikipedia

Many companies have created programs that support hiring employees with criminal backgrounds. Most of these Second Chance programs refer to former felons as:

  • second-chance individuals
  • justice involved people
  • people with a felony history (or criminal history)

Part of creating successful Second Chance Programs is training your employees. Training around hiring former felons should include:

  • treating people with a felony history of different races and genders the same
  • considering the time that has passed since the charge
  • deciding if the conviction is related to the job duties
  • collecting information from the candidate about the circumstances of their charges

Second Chance hiring should be part of your business model and is less likely to work if an organization is doing it for the wrong reasons. SHRM’s blog on Best Practices for Second Chance Hiring says:

“It shouldn’t be done to be charitable or altruistic. It should be because your organization is committed to hiring the best person for a job. It’s also important to note that—for those companies that have hired second-chance candidates— 82 percent of hiring managers said the quality of those candidates is as good as, if not better than, someone without a criminal record, said Richard Bronson, CEO of 70 Million Jobs, a job-search site dedicated to this population.”

SHRM

Second Chance Companies

There are hundreds of Second Chance companies hiring ex felons. One example is Nehemiah Manufacturing, where hiring former felons is the norm. Nehemiah has created a Second Chance program that includes a social-service team, housing and drug treatment support, and an assigned job coach.

In a 2020 interview about Second Chance Companies, Co-Founder of Nehemiah, Richard Palmer, said:

“We found that the population we were hiring who had criminal backgrounds were our most loyal people. When we were looking for people to work overtime, come in on Saturday or go that extra mile, it was the second-chance population that was saying, ‘I’m in.’”

The Wall Street Journal

John Lundy, Diversity, and Inclusion Program Manager at Ingram Micro, is also very passionate about hiring former felons and second-chance individuals.

“Second-chance individuals offer a huge network of new talent. The companies that drag their feet on it will struggle. I’m not saying you should give everyone in prison a job. But if you don’t have a clear position on second-chance opportunities, your company won’t be considered progressive or socially responsible.”

— Inclusion and Equity Practitioner, John Lundy

SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work initiative provides resources and a step-by-step toolkit for creating Second Chance programs for hiring employees with criminal records.

2. Use job description language that’s inclusive to justice involved people

Biased job description language also has a big effect on who applies for your jobs. So if you are trying to reach the 70 million+ Americans who have a criminal record, using inclusive language for former felons is key.

If you’re open to hiring felons or second chance individuals, Ongig’s Text Analyzer flags language that might turn off this group such as “ex-offender” or “convicted felons” and gives you more inclusive language. If you have a program to support jobs for former felons, Text Analyzer also flags phrases like “no criminal record” or “no felons” language that sometimes creeps back into job postings even after you’ve launched a Second Chance program.

If you search Indeed for the words “felons”, “criminal history”, or “felony background” you find 2 things:

  • jobs for former felons
  • jobs excluding justice involved people

Here’s an example of language in a job description that excludes former felons:

no hiring ex felons

And this is an example of a job posting that uses inclusive language around hiring ex-felons:

hiring former felons with a criminal record

There are some types of jobs that have regulations that prevent hiring employees with criminal records. But for job postings not in that category, consider using job description language like the examples below to be more inclusive:

  • “we consider second chance candidates” instead of “don’t apply if you have a criminal record”
  • “people with a felony record will be considered” instead of ” convicted felons need not apply”
  • “we hire former felons” instead of “we hire criminals”

3. Follow laws that support hiring ex felons

Have you heard the phrase “once a felon, always a felon”? According to Equal Employment Opportunity laws and other laws that support hiring former felons, that’s not always the case.

These are laws you should to consider related to hiring former felons:

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws

“Federal law does not prohibit employers from asking about your criminal history. But, federal EEO laws do prohibit employers from discriminating when they use criminal history information. Using criminal history information to make employment decisions may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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).

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.”

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

A best practice to be compliant with the EEOC laws is to consider hiring ex-felons on a case-by-case basis. Using this practice also removes added racial bias from the hiring process:

“People of color make up 30% of the population. But they represent 60% of the prison population. Simply having a blanket policy of never hiring anyone with a checkered past might be interpreted as discriminating on the basis of race.”

Efficient Hire

Fair Chance Hiring Laws

Fair hiring laws have been adopted in 150 cities and counties, and in 33 states since 2009. Fair Chance hiring laws are also known as “Ban the Box” laws.

What is Ban the box?

“Ban the box is a national campaign designed to ban employers from asking questions regarding an applicant’s criminal history on initial job application forms. Promoted by advocates for people with records, ban-the-box laws and policies aim to remove the stigma associated with previous convictions and give all applicants a fair chance at employment.”

GoodHire

Ban the box started in 1998 when Hawaii passed a law that prohibited employers from asking applicants about their criminal history.

3 of the largest cities in the U.S. fair chance hiring laws are used as models across the country:

  • San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance: As passed in 2014, the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance applied to all city businesses with 20 or more employees; an October 2018 revision extends the law to all companies with five or more employees.
  • Los Angeles Fair Chance Initiative for Hiring: LA’s fair chance law took effect in January 2017, and is considered one of the country’s most comprehensive ban the box measures. Like the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance, it calls for employer penalties of $500 for the first failure to comply; $1,000 for a second offense; and $2,000 for subsequent violations.
  • New York City Fair Chance Act: The NYC Fair Chance Act was passed in 2015. The law extends to both public and private employers; bans ads that say “background check required” or “no felonies”; and forbids questions about criminal history during the job interview process.

Be sure to consider the laws in your state that support hiring employees with criminal backgrounds. Employers who do not comply could face civil penalties. Things that might be different in each are state:

  • the nature of an offense
  • company size
  • public vs. private sector
  • background check requirements
  • years since conviction

Hiring felons tax credit

This is not exactly a law, but an added perk of being an employer hiring felons is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

The WOTC gives employers tax incentives to hire employees in certain categories who are facing significant employment barriers, including ex-felons.

“When an employer hires someone from this category, they may be eligible to take a tax credit based on:

– How much the worker makes during their first year at the employer’s company

– How many hours the person works

– The category or demographic of the employee”

Indeed

4. Take the Fair Chance hiring pledge

Along with following Fair Chance hiring laws, some companies are going 1 step further. In 2015, President Obama created the Fair Chance hiring pledge to encourage businesses to give second chances to former felons and people with a criminal history looking for jobs.

The Fair Chance Business Pledge

“We applaud the growing number of public and private sector organizations nationwide who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system. When almost 70 million Americans — nearly one in three adults — have a criminal record, it is important to remove unnecessary barriers that may prevent these individuals from gaining access to employment, training, education and other basic tools required for success in life.
We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to participate in the American economy.”

The White House

The Fair Chance Business Pledge program is still in action and companies interested in hiring employees with criminal records are encouraged to participate.

20 Fair Chance Employers

I found a list of 100+ fair chance employers big and small. Here’s a list of 20 large employees who’ve the Fair Chance hiring pledge:

  • American Airlines
  • Best Buy
  • Facebook
  • Georgia-Pacific
  • Google
  • Greystone Bakery
  • Hersheys
  • Johns Hopkins Medical Center
  • Kellogg Company
  • Koch Industries
  • Lyft
  • Microsoft
  • Prudential
  • Staples
  • Starbucks
  • TrueBlue
  • Uber
  • UnderArmour
  • Unilever
  • Xerox

For the full list of Fair Chance Employers from FairShake, click here.

The companies who take the Fair Chance Business Pledge are also encouraged to:

  • Ban the Box by delaying background checks in the hiring process
  • Train staff on best practices for hiring employees with criminal records
  • Create internships and apprenticeships for people with a felony history
  • Host Fair Chance job fairs

5. Advertise on job boards for felons

Another excellent way to reach former felons or potential employees with criminal records is to use job boards for felons.

There is some big traffic on Google showing former felons are searching for jobs, especially at large companies. These are the most common searches, with monthly queries from ahrefs.com:

  • Does Amazon hire felons? (3,200 searches per month)
  • Does Walmart hire felons? (1,600/mo)
  • Does Fedex hire felons? (700/mo)
  • Does Home Depot hire felons? (500/mo)
  • Does UPS hire felons? (500/mo)
  • Does Target hire felons? (300/mo)
  • Does Lowes hire felons? (250/mo)
  • Does Costco hire felons? (150/mo)
  • Does Lyft hire felons? (100/mo)
  • Does USPS hire felons? (100/mo)
  • Does Pepsi hire felons? (100/mo)
  • Does Verizon hire felons? (100/mo)

The websites below for hiring former felons have job boards dedicated to hiring employees with criminal records:

Many companies post full time jobs for former felons or apprenticeships that require just involved people to meet certain requirements before being hired on full time.

For other info and tips about hiring former felons check out, How and Why to Attract Former Felons in Your Job Postings.

Why I wrote this?

Ongig’s Text Analyzer software helps create inclusive job description language and flags words that might turn off former felons like “ex-offender” or “convicted felons.” This is key when you are hiring employees with criminal records. Click the demo request button on this page if you’d like to learn more.

Shout-Outs

  1. Programs to Help Felons Get Jobs (by Indeed)
  2. Americans with Criminal Records (by Half in 10)
  3. Pre-Employment Inquiries and Arrest & Conviction (by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)
  4. 12 Big Companies that Hire Felons (by Siôn Phillpott)
  5. Fair Chance Employers (by FairShake Re-Entry Resource Center)
  6. Take the Fair Chance Pledge (by The White House)
  7. Understanding the Fair Chance Act and Fair Hiring Laws (by Jim Akin)
  8. Are you considering hiring felons? (by Dave Kenney)
  9. Ban the Box (by Elizabeth McLean)
  10. What Employers Must Know About Hiring Employees With a Criminal History (by Suzanne Lucas)
  11. Second Chance Hiring – How Employment Can Change Someone’s Life ( by Teisha Sanders)
  12. Work Opportunity Tax Credit (Internal Revenue Service)
  13. 4 Best Practices for Second-Chance Hiring (by Karen Bannan)
  14. Second Chance Companies (GEO Re-Entry Connect)
  15. The Company of Second Chances (by Ruth Simon)
  16. 4 Reasons Why Your Small Business Should Hire An Ex-Convict (by Jhaneel Lockhart)
  17. 5 Reasons to Consider Hiring a Convicted Felon (by Human Resources MBA)
  18. Second Chance Employers (The Center for Community Transitions)

by in Diversity and Inclusion