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
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The WFEA’s anti-discrimination obligations with regard to arrest or conviction history are not easily fulfilled. In fact, they can be counterintuitive for people. Think about a background check revealing that a male employee has a history of sexual assault or other sexual offense. It is easy to fall back on skepticism, fear, or flat-out convenience to avoid hiring that person. It is easier to say, “Not my problem and no need for me to get a headache from hiring him.” That response is simpler than worrying about how he will treat female staff and customers. That response certainly avoids wondering about the employer’s liability, concerns about negligent hiring, or impact to the employer’s reputation if there is a relapse. And yet organizations and their staff struggle with these questions and look past their concerns every day in order to follow the law. Shouldn’t a similar principle and thought process apply to a few minutes on stage with policymakers?
The WFEA’s anti-discrimination protections depend on employers understanding and supporting the underlying policy: giving people a second chance, viewing them as individuals rather than as a rap sheet, and providing them an opportunity to become economically self-sufficient. It is difficult to ask employers to voluntarily comply with the law, as opposed to doing so out of begrudging obligation or playing cat and mouse with potential legal penalties, when policymakers cannot bother to look past the “ex-convict” label.
While I understand there is no legal obligation to invite a former convict to a political event, it would have been encouraging to hear that even though a background check was not conducted, the results would have been irrelevant in this case. This worker had moved beyond a criminal past to become a model employee. That is a positive development, on multiple fronts, that is worth highlighting. To be clear, I am not suggesting his life story makes him a model citizen in all respects. But certainly his story is an even better example of the economic successes that were being highlighted. Sure, his inclusion raises some pesky questions. But there is a straightforward response as to why they should not matter: We expect this type of success from our anti-discrimination laws, and there should be no shame in recognizing the result.
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