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Jan 28, 201411:29 AMForward HR

with Diane Hamilton and Nilesh Patel

Why it shouldn’t matter that Gov. Walker shared a stage with a sex offender

(page 1 of 2)

At the Wisconsin State of the State (SOTS) address, Gov. Walker stressed that economic conditions were improving and introduced some workers who had secured jobs. The day after the speech, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column noted that one of the workers has a criminal past that includes a sexual offense and multiple incidents of drunk driving.

The comments from each political camp immediately focused on whether the individual was properly vetted or had a background check run on him. The Walker camp assumed the employer had performed an adequate background check and stated, “If we had been aware of this individual’s prior convictions, he would not have been invited to participate.” Similarly, candidate Burke stated, “I would make sure I’m vetting people I’m holding up as great examples of successes in Wisconsin.”

Of course, the governor’s team should have conducted a background check. However, what each side missed saying is that regardless of his past, this worker’s story is an example of a type of success worth recognizing, because he moved beyond a criminal past to become gainfully employed and a model employee.

Workers with an arrest or conviction record face a large hurdle to securing employment. There is the obvious aversion to someone who has not played by the rules or who has a troubled past. There is also a lack of faith in the person’s judgment and distrust of the person’s character. In spite of such hurdles, the worker at the SOTS secured a temporary position, performed well enough to move from seasonal work to full-time work, and received a recommendation from his employer for prime-time recognition by the governor. Why would that not count as a personal and economic success story worth highlighting?

Focusing on just the criminal past (even one with a sexual offense) and suggesting exclusion sends a troubling message to the public and to employers. It supports a continued bias against former convicts, regardless of what they are able to accomplish, and it can undermine workplace anti-discrimination laws.

The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act (WFEA) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of arrest or conviction records. While there are some limited exceptions, the law requires employers to ignore the arrest or conviction history unless there is a substantial connection to the job. That means an interviewer would have to resist the urge to summarily reject a candidate simply because of a criminal record, even if that record included sexual offenses. It also means the worker cannot simply be fired if the employer did not ask about the criminal history and it is uncovered later on. Instead, employers have to look past the checkered history, look at the person’s present abilities and character, and evaluate whether there is any substantial connection between the crime(s) and the task at hand.


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Jan 28, 2014 12:19 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

So well said! I thought the VERY same thing when I saw the bruhaha that commenced on the news about this person at the event. I, too, thought this was a perfect example of someone trying to make something of himself despite his past. They could have made the most out of this situation but instead they tried to place blame on someone who didn't do proper vetting. That was a shame. Before your article, I thought I was the only one who thought this way so thank you for validating my thoughts and for speaking out for this fellow and others like him!

Jan 28, 2014 12:58 pm
 Posted by  Marg S.

Thanks for this column. I have to admit that my first reaction was, "Nice move, Walker." My second thought was that my Republic friends would be just as pleased as if it had happened to a Dem gov. I didn't think of Patel's take until I began his column and I'm glad I saw it. We should celebrate any ex-offender who can overcome his or her past and build a better future. I only wish I had had the same, humane, mature reaction right away. Thanks for one of the best lessons in humanity I've had lately (and they can't come often enough to any of us).

Jan 28, 2014 03:05 pm
 Posted by  John

Thanks for publishing this. It was precisely my thought too after the news he was a former felon came out. I think it's fantastic that a former felon has been rehabilitated, retrained, and was able to find productive, living-wage work.

Jan 29, 2014 06:56 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Agreed - I am very much a liberal, and when the news about this guy came out, my liberal friends jumped all over it but I said, "Hey, wait a minute - this guy is holding a job and improving himself. Isn't that what we WANT?" Politics is so focused on image these days that the reality of people's lives simply get lost in the shuffle.

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About This Blog

 Diane Hamilton, PCC, SPHR, is the owner and founder of Calibra, a coaching and consulting firm focused on maximizing leadership potential. Nilesh Patel is the principal attorney of the Mahadev Law Group, LLC, which focuses on human resources and employment law issues for organizations. He can be reached at Both bloggers are members of Wisconsin SHRM, which is dedicated to being the state leader in HR management and the premier source for HR expertise and resources. More information can be found at You can follow the WI SHRM blog at



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