Each year, more than 650,000 citizens are released from prison. Unfortunately, recidivism is high—nearly half end up back in prison, often as a result of a lack of employment options available to those with criminal records. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
While “ban-the-box” laws and other regulatory efforts to give ex-offenders a fair chance are helping, companies with business models that make hiring former offenders a priority are popping up around the country, and business is booming.
Why Employers Should Take Note
One-third of the country’s workforce, more than 70 million Americans, have an arrest or conviction record, narrowing the pool of workers for businesses across all industries to hire from.
Without jobs, these ex-offenders don’t know where to turn, and have limited employment options available to them. Companies that have open hiring and fair chance hiring policies can help give returning citizens the opportunity they need to find and keep jobs, which is crucial both materially and psychologically to successful reintegration. (THE RETURN, a film produced by PBS, documents the human side of life for ex-offenders reintegrating into society and the many challenges they face.)
For employers, hiring employees with criminal records helps the community by increasing economic viability and decreasing recidivism rates. But companies that are “reentry friendly” also benefit from a loyal workforce and higher retention rates. Willingness to work hard and gratefulness for the second chance are often cited as characteristics of employees who have criminal records.
Moreover, a recent study found that “ex-offenders who did get hired were no more likely to be fired later than non-offenders. And they were less likely to quit—saving their firms a significant amount of money in employee turnover costs.”
More businesses are backing efforts to hire Americans with criminal records. In 2016, Google, PepsiCo, American Airlines, and more than a dozen other large companies pledged to support fair chance hiring, while some companies have taken efforts a step further with business models that make hiring former offenders a priority. Such companies, like Hot Chicken Takeover, Dave’s Killer Bread, and Greyston Bakery, see benefits beyond the goodwill of giving employees a second chance—it’s also good for the bottom line.
A Restaurant with a Social Mission
Up to 70% of Columbus, Ohio-based Hot Chicken Takeover’s workforce has a record. These employees, according to founder Joe DeLoss, are loyal, hard working, and appreciative because they had so much to lose. The numbers back him up. In the food industry, typical turnover rates are in the high seventies. At Hot Chicken Takeover, the retention rate is 77%, double what similar businesses have. Anyone who knows how difficult it is to keep hiring and training new staff can appreciate that number.
The Nation’s Top Organic Sliced Bread
Dave’s Killer Bread, a model and a leader in the Second Chance Employment movement, was founded by David Dahl, an ex-offender who believes “everyone is capable of greatness.” Committed to turning second chances into lasting change, a third of the company’s 300 employees have a criminal record.
Acquired by Flower Foods, the nation’s second largest baking company, for $275 million in 2015, the Oregon-based bakery continues to advocate for the employment of people with criminal backgrounds through its foundation. Today, Dave’s Killer Bread is the best-selling organic sliced bread in the U.S., with 19 varieties of whole grain organic bakery products and widespread distribution across the U.S. and Canada.
Fudgy Brownies Help Build Futures
In Yonkers, N.Y., Greyston Bakery adopted an open hiring policy 33 years ago to provide jobs to the city’s chronically unemployed workforce. Regardless of whether they have a criminal record, are homeless, lack training or education, have limited English, or past drug abuse, people come to the bakery and write their name on a waiting list. When their name reaches the top, they get a job.
Best known as the supplier of brownies to Ben & Jerry’s, the company’s baked goods are also sold online and at Whole Foods Markets. Although many of its 140+ employees were once labeled “unemployable,” they are critical to the company’s success—and to giving other people like them a chance at a better future. The bakery’s profits go to the Greyston Foundation, which operates programs to support self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income working families in Yonkers.
Better Background Checks Support Fair Chance Hiring
Most employers run background checks before hiring. Unfortunately, criminal records can exclude many qualified people from securing honest work. Guidelines provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires employers to conduct individualized assessments (versus a blanket ban) for candidates with criminal records. By using “nature-time-nature” as part of this assessment, employers must consider the nature and gravity of the offense; the time that’s passed since the offense and completion of the sentence; and the nature of the job sought.
Criminal records tell only part of the story—that a conviction occurred. GoodHire’s background check services help promote fair chance hiring by giving ex-offenders a chance to explain their offense.
We call it “Comments For Context.” Built into the background check workflow, it lets candidates see their FCRA-compliant background checks the way employers will and allows them to enter comments directly on the results. Without that context, employers run the risk of excluding otherwise qualified candidates.
The context helps employers make an informed, individualized assessment as required by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
A Second Chance Can Make a Big Difference
As more businesses, from large companies to small shops, recognize the value of keeping qualified candidates in the pipeline and giving candidates with criminal records a fair chance, our communities will benefit from increased financial stability for families, reduced rates of recidivism, and a sense of self worth for ex-offenders.
Now that’s good business.
To help you make confident, effective, and fair hiring decisions when a candidate has a criminal record, try out GoodHire for your business. Get started here.
The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.