Job candidates with criminal records have received a quick turndown by employers in the past. But there are both practical and legal reasons to hire them.

For decades, employers thought nothing of asking job candidates with criminal records to check a box "yes" on application forms. On its face, it doesn't sound like a bad question. Someone who's committed a crime would seem to be a risky employee who might, say, steal organizational property or harm others.

For a host of reasons — practical, as well as ethical and legal — it's the wrong assumption for organizations to make these days. In fact, in some instances a job candidate with a criminal record might actually be a better hire than someone without such a record.

In the first of a two-part series, we'll put the issue in context and address some misconceptions. In the second part, we'll look at legal issues governing the hiring process of job candidates with criminal records. The series is based on an interview with and resources provided by Roberta Meyers, director of the National H.I.R.E. (Helping Individuals with criminal records Reenter through Employment) Network, a clearinghouse for information on the topic.

Out of the roughly 330 million people living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, how many would you guess have criminal records? According to PolitiFact, 70 million Americans have a criminal record according to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates 6.7 million adults are either incarcerated or on parole or probation.

Distinguishing Between Job Candidates With Criminal records

Let's be clear: Some people with criminal records really shouldn't be hired because they pose a risk to the organization, their fellow employees and the public. Others actually might be an asset.

For example, say a woman named Melanie applies for a job as a driver. She has been convicted of several DUIs and only recently got her driver's license reinstated.

Martin applies for a job in the warehouse. Needing to provide for his family, he was convicted of selling marijuana. That was five years ago, and he hasn't been involved in any criminal activity since, working steadily to continue to support his family.

Hring Melanie for a role involving driving is obviously risky. But Martin may actually be more determined to be a reliable employee than most, knowing how important the work is to him.

Note a couple of key distinctions between the two. Melanie's criminal activity is recent and would be relevant to her job duties. Martin's was years ago, he's exhibited a change in behavior and the criminal activity is not relevant to his job duties. The laws affecting hiring those with criminal records are designed to recognize these differences.

Why Those Convicted May Be Better Employees

The decision to not hire those with criminal records can be based in part on the belief that an employer can trust prospects lacking such records. But of course, risks aren't so easily assessed. Take, for example, employees who defraud their employers — an activity that on average costs an organization 5 percent of their revenue each year, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The average loss per incident: $150,000. The percentage of employees who had prior convictions of fraud: 5.2 percent. The people who are stealing large amounts from their organizations tend to be higher-level employees, working in organizations that made it easy for them to get away with their theft, often for years.

To read more in the series: Job Candidates With Criminal Records Part 2: The Legal Considerations

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Tags: employment regulations EEOC