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Hiring Returning Citizens: The Pros, The Concerns and Mitigation

April 15, 2019


     As a consultant who works with those businesses that want to understand how to expand their diversity programs to include ex-offenders I understand that, as with any other venture, there are both pros and cons when it comes to hiring those with a criminal history and, ultimately it will become a choice of comfort with the process.

     While many are not ready to accept this population into their ranks, some understand the inherent value their experience and viewpoints bring to the workplace. Let's take a look at some Pros and Cons in more detail in order to better understand.


     We will start with some of the most commonly discussed and those I consider most obvious to a business, tax credits and incentives. An organization that is willing to hire an ex-offender may qualify for Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC). Also, in many states, there are tax incentives and other programs that could offset the costs of employing someone with a criminal history.

     You are probably thinking at this point, that is great, but what else is there? What benefit is there for me beyond a couple of tax breaks?

     You will be helping the community at large. An ex offender with gainful employment is less likely to commit another crime. That act goes a long way from a local public relations stand point. Local communities like to see that the businesses take an active interest in the growth and prosperity of those in the neighborhood. 


     Since many businesses are dependent on the local community, this simple act could potentially bring more clients.

     Another benefit is that of loyalty. Many people with a criminal history have a hard time finding employment, even years after the completion of their sentence. This means that when they are given a chance, they tend to be very loyal. This benefits the company because it reduces employee turnaround and a loyal employee is more likely to watch out for the company’s best interest by reporting misconduct and theft. They also tend to be more reliable as they understand the value of having a job and will tend to work harder to stay employed.

     One of the greatest benefits, also most often overlooked, is the talent that many of these ex-offenders have. Many have high value skills and, because of the gaps in employment, their salary expectations tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum.


      The benefits I mentioned do not eliminate the risks in hiring someone with a history, those are still very present.

     The first one that comes to mind is that the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place hasn’t changed. This can be mitigated by either hiring someone who has shown they have been able to hold on to a job successfully for a year, or offering the position with a more structured probationary/training period as well as offering the position to someone on parole or probation. This could mitigate the risks because they are still being frequently monitored and drug tested.

     Another issue that is common has little to do with the actual individual that was hired, it is the discomfort of the current staff. This can be a serious issue because some people outright refuse to work with someone who has a past.

     This is resolved by maintaining discretion about the employee's past and having a well rounded diversity and inclusion program. A well trained and informed management team, along with solid policies, will be able to address the concerns of the other employees should they express concern.

     Finally, there is the concern of possible theft or fraud. This is mitigated by using a common sense approach to screening and interviewing. It is no different than hiring any employee, you will conduct your interview and see who is the most qualified candidate. When the issue of a criminal background comes up, ask yourself, does this person’s past behavior reflect poorly on their ability and trustworthiness? Then decide accordingly.

     In the end there is no magic bullet or simple way to decide. There are many benefits and safeguards in place to facilitate the hiring of individuals with a criminal history, just like there are many things to be cautious of once they are hired. The most effective solution is having in place clear policies, good hiring practices and well trained and informed staff could mitigate many issues. Are you ready to give someone a chance? Contact us today to discuss how we can help you and your team be more inclusive, effective, and potentially profitable. 

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