At Work

Criminal history gets in the way of getting hired

Updated: 2013-08-16T15:19:47Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

No one expects a bank to hire a convicted embezzler. There are many safety reasons — financial and physical — why employers don’t hire people with criminal pasts.

But some of those reasons aren’t necessarily reasonable. And that’s why there’s national momentum to “ban the box.”

Ten states and about 50 cities now bar some employers (generally in the public sector) from requiring job hunters to check a box on their job application form that tells whether they have a criminal record. Some states also have laws that bar employers from asking about arrests, limiting acceptable application questions to convictions.

To be clear: Employers aren’t prohibited from doing criminal background checks. They aren’t prohibited from refusing to hire applicants who have convictions. But they are being asked to refrain from eliminating applicants at the outset without having more information about the timing and nature of the conviction and its relevance to the particular job.

Some of the most wrenching calls I’ve received over the years have been from ex-offenders — or their relatives. They have served their time and are trying to earn a living but often are rejected from consideration as a blanket policy.

It makes sense from employers’ point of view to be careful in hiring. Employers have to protect their workers, their customers and their bottom lines. Liability is at stake. But many ex-offenders say their convictions unfairly blackball them.

“I just want a chance at an interview” is the common plea I hear from all job hunters. They want to be considered on their merits or potential instead of being summarily dismissed because of “policy.”

Some positions should have tough barriers to entry, but for many jobs, ex-offenders want employers to “consider the crime, consider the time” before unilaterally rejecting them.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and twitter.com/kcstarstafford.

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