Not Gonna Hire Because of a Criminal Past? Whoa, Let’s Re-Think That One

Yesterday, I received an email from a candidate that I placed one year ago with a long-standing client. This candidate, let’s call him Ray, phoned our office and he was transferred to me because of it’s “uniqueness” (I get all of the “unique” calls).

Anyway, back to Ray. He told me that he called every employment agency in town and has interviewed with a few but has had no luck because he has a criminal background. He was frustrated. You could tell that he was ready to give up. I felt that he needed some hope. Not a rescue, but just someone that would listen to him. So, enjoying a good challenge, I said, “Ray, I will meet with you and we can discuss the situation. I cannot make any promises except this: I’ll be honest.”

We met a few days later. He arrived dressed very professionally; suit, tie and well groomed. Nice fellow. After he told me the entire scenario concerning the felony conviction, I must admit, I was uncomfortable and uneasy about marketing him. So, I asked him for a list of references to call upon, hoping to get a better 3-D image of Ray and who he really is – not just the felony.

The next day was the first day of our family vacation. I took the names and phone numbers with me to call. In the car, walking to the restaurants and activities, in the hotel room while waiting for everyone to get ready – I called. I called every person on that list. What I got was the truth about Ray. And the bonus? I got a great candidate to market.

Once back at work, I began to market Ray. I called my clients that I felt would have the open-mindedness to hear about Ray’s value and not be distracted by the felony. I acknowledged the felony up front. Then I confirmed, “You have always trusted me to find top talent for you. Please take a look at this guy. He really is someone that will make you money.”

Ray went out on his first interview with a client that is a wholesale distributor. He interviewed for the role of Collections (major accounts) and was there for three hours. He met first with HR then with the VP of operations. After the interview the HR Director and the VP convened and determined that Ray was of value. The offer was made, Ray accepted and my relationship with my client was fortified; better than ever.

I know that Ray wasn’t the perfect candidate for every client. Heck, at first glance, he wasn’t perfect for anyone. But he was worth a look. And in today’s challenging world of hiring, the case with Ray makes a serious point. Considering the felony and not the candidate may not always be the best policy to practice. To bring this topic full-circle and have full-content clarity, I am giving you an excerpt from It really rounds out my position on criminal background “checks and balances”:

“Due diligence by employers in screening the backgrounds of job applicants is always important. But the practice of using criminal background checks to dismiss job applicants is now under the microscope.

The most recent example: A $3.1 million settlement against Pepsi — the penalty the company agreed to pay for rejecting 300 African-American job applicants based on arrests or minor offenses.

Background checks that include criminal history are legal, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission points out. It’s just what you do with what you learn that can lead to trouble.

The best way to use such information is to run it through this three-part test first:

  • What was the nature of the crime? Was anyone hurt? What was the level of the offense?
  • How long has it been since the offense occurred?
  • Would it affect essential functions or circumstances of the job?

Answering those questions will help you get on the right track.

But businesses that opt to take further steps will better protect themselves from the risk of litigation when dealing with a job applicant who has a criminal record.


  1. Set and uphold the standards you expect of employees and ask to discuss a criminal record — but make no automatic disqualifications based solely on the fact the person has a record.
  2. Designate an in-house neutral party who would review criminal matters and report outcomes to the HR manager — but once again, that is not sufficient reason to reject an applicant out of hand.
  3. Get rid of the “Have you ever been arrested or convicted …” question on your employment application. And when you’re interviewing the applicant, find out if that person truly has the potential to meet your company’s needs — before you deliver the “knockout” question.

Timing is everything, the saying goes.”

Congratulations, Ray. Next time, call The Wilson Group first, OK?

Views: 684

Comment by Erin Passmore on July 12, 2012 at 8:49am

Great article.   I work for an organization that almost didn't hire someone because they had two misdemeanors five years ago.  I was quite upset by their reaction.  I understand if someone had a fraud conviction and wanted to work for my finance department but an administrative assistant with old misdemeanors?  Really?  I hope the laws are changed and we don't continue to hold people to task for mistakes of the past when the past is not relevant.

Comment by Gordon Basichis on July 12, 2012 at 10:26am

Nice article.  All the key points of the EEOC guidelines are well covered.  As a background screening service, we have passed on information to our clients advising them to take note of these new guidelines and that blanket rejection of a candidate because of prior convictions is neither wise nor compliant.   On another note, I am well aware of many people who screwed up early in life, or even during one bad patch in the road, and since then have gone on to develop marketable skill sets and lead exemplary lives.  They certainly deserve a second chance.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on July 12, 2012 at 11:41am

Great topic! 

I think we have all been there and experienced this situation.   I am glad you were sucessfull with Ray. 

Comment by Sandeep Marquee on July 12, 2012 at 3:19pm

Great article and suggestions. Thanks to  SeSee Munson . 


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