Considering Criminal Convictions

mug shotDelving into job applicants’ criminal records during the hiring process can get dicey.

Many employers are legally permitted to pose questions concerning criminal history on job applications. But an increasing number of cities and states are moving to prohibit such queries, enacting “Ban the Box” laws that eliminate questions about criminal convictions and, theoretically, help level the playing field for job seekers with criminal backgrounds.

The EEOC has recommended that all organizations take similar steps, and has encouraged employers to avoid relying on bright-line background screens to weed out those with criminal infractions in their past.

A recent survey conducted by Cleveland-based EmployeeScreenIQ finds that, while many companies still seek information about criminal histories, they may be starting to put a bit less emphasis on what these inquiries uncover.

In its poll of nearly 600 HR professionals, EmployeeScreenIQ found a majority of respondents (66 percent) indicating they continue to ask candidates to self-disclose criminal convictions on job applications, while 78 percent said they ask them to do so at some point in the hiring process.

Just 8 percent, however, said they automatically disqualify an applicant who admits to having a criminal record before a background check. Less than half of the survey respondents (45 percent) said job candidates with criminal records are not hired due to their past imprudence less than 5 percent of the time.

What sort of indiscretions worry employers the most? When asked what type of convictions would disqualify a candidate from consideration for a job, survey respondents most commonly replied:

• Violent crimes (felony convictions) – 88 percent

• Crimes of theft and dishonesty (felony convictions) – 82 percent

• Drug offenses (felony convictions) – 68 percent

Misdemeanors matter as well, with 52 percent citing misdemeanor convictions for crimes involving theft or dishonesty as dealbreakers. Fifty-two percent said the same about misdemeanor convictions for violent crimes. In addition, 35 percent indicated misdemeanor drug offenses would take an applicant out of the running, and 13 percent said minor infractions and/or driving offenses would exclude a candidate. For that matter, 8 percent of respondents said charges that didn’t result in a conviction may eliminate a job applicant from contention.

(A full, complimentary survey report is available for download here)

Naturally, felonies “have always been of greater concern,” says Nick Fishman, co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, and the organization’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president.

“I do think [employers] are justified in their concern over felony offenses,” he says, “especially relating to violence and theft or dishonesty. These types of offenses really speak to a person’s character, and could foreshadow future problems.”

Misdemeanors can be “a bit trickier,” adds Fishman, noting that patterns of behavior should be the key indicator in weighing criminal convictions.

“Regardless of the criminal activity, employers need to look at things such as the type of crime, severity, age [at the time] of conviction, whether the person is a repeat offender and relevance to the job before making a hiring decision.”