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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 2 of 2)

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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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 npp@mahalawgroup.com. 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 www.wishrm.org. You can follow the WI SHRM blog at http://wishrm.wordpress.com.

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