As the Economist put it, employers are “between a rock and a lawsuit.” Should they risk the apparent liabilities of hiring ex-offenders or risk discrimination lawsuits if they refuse to do so?
A good place to start in answering this question is to understand that not all ex-offenders are dangerous. At some point in their lives, many of them pose no greater risk than any other hire. Business articles report (here and here and here) that many firms have had successful programs hiring ex-offenders so that the benefits as well as social justice are driving their choice to do so. It is not necessarily in the best interests of an employer to reject ex-offenders out of hand.
The reality is that not all ex-offenders are alike any more than all individuals of any type are alike. Some of them can make fine employees in the right kind of job.
The solution to the employers’ dilemma lies in accepting individual differences and developing a hiring process that recognizes them. This individualization is embedded in public policy and revealed in research on recidivism. Employment can provide a path to normal citizenship for many ex-offenders, and it is one of the most important factors that helps them to avoid re-arrest.
Employers are not obligated just to achieve public policy ends. But there is a path to hiring that can help them both to find ex-offenders who will make good employees and adhere to public policy prescriptions.
Our new infographic, How to Hire ‘Second Chance’ Workers, summarizes the issues in this difficult area of employment. It provides context as well as a description of a hiring process that threads the needle between the rock and the lawsuit.