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May 28, 201402:12 PMOpen for Business

with Jody Glynn Patrick

What’s your policy on hiring felons?

(page 1 of 2)

“I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” — Winston Churchill

The least painful or expensive way to learn best business practices is not by making mistakes but rather by joining the IB family, where we highlight success stories and share cautionary tales about the missteps of others in workshops, in print, and online. Toward that goal, here’s another learning opportunity.

Quiz: What’s your company’s position on hiring felons? If your answer is “we don’t hire people with felony convictions,” I’m about to save you a fortune in attorney’s fees.

Bed Bath & Beyond, Inc., which does business in 1,400 stores across the U.S., including two in Madison, recently made an HR mistake that cost the retailer $125,000 in a settlement in New York. Hint: In addition to punitive damages and penalties, that agreement specified payment of $40,000 for restitution to people with felony convictions who were unlawfully denied jobs.

This cautionary tale begins with an ill-informed HR manager who handed out informational material at a New York job fair. The material included a statement informing potential job applicants that the company didn’t hire felons. Apparently, the statement went so far as to suggest that people with felony convictions not even bother to apply for open positions.

That action is deemed illegal in the state of New York, where the attorney general is cracking down on discrimination against felons who have served their time. Likewise, under Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee or job applicant with a conviction record. An employer may refuse to hire a qualified applicant due to a conviction record only if the offense is substantially related to the circumstances of the particular job the applicant seeks. If an employee earns a conviction during the course of employment that is substantially related to the circumstances of the particular job the employee holds, he or she can then be fired for that reason at the company’s discretion, but the offense must meet that condition.

New York law applies to those who have earned “ex-offender” status. Wisconsin’s law is not as forgiving to potential employers, despite an attempt in March 2012 to pass Assembly Bill 286, which would have moderated the Fair Employment Act to help employers dictate terms of hire. Had the bill passed, people who had not been pardoned could have been singled out for discrimination in municipalities that adopted the right to allow different legal strokes for different folks based on conviction status.

On the other end of the spectrum, Hawaii prohibits criminal history questions until employers make a conditional job offer. San Diego is now waging a campaign to remove the question “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” from job application forms. Employers would be under no obligation to hire and can still do subsequent criminal background checks. This likely was inspired by Rhode Island’s passage of a “ban the box” law in 2013 making it illegal (as of January 2014) to ask about a criminal past prior to a first interview. This law was passed to allow the applicant at least the opportunity to explain his or her employment credentials.


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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
May 29, 2014 08:34 am
 Posted by  Mark Sevelis

Try to use more imagination. Here's how to get around hiring felons by using my example for age discrimination: I've been unemployed for the last year and I will turn 65 in July. I also have 34 years experience as an electrical engineer and technician. I only apply for positions that I am qualified for.

Employers will collect/filter six or seven job applications/resumes' for their open position. They will interview the top three or four candidates. Now, when they will see I am in my 60's while the other three are in their 40's, it's bye bye, Mark. Thanks for comin' in, though.

No employer will hire a 64 year old for a fulltime position. (They might consider a 64 year old as a temp/contractor). The old timer will receive a "thanks, but no thanks rejection letter" stating that one of the other candidates was more qualified. Bingo, the employer's with me is solved. There's no way I can prove discrimination, and frankly, I don't care about employers who won't hire me--only the employer who says "Mark, could you start working here next Monday?"

On paper, I look like a 45 year old because I received my BSEET from MSOE in 2004. Believe me, I've seen the look in a prospective employer's eyes, ie, the disappointment that I am 64. It makes me think of the old Beatle's song "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I'm 64..." Um, the answer is no.

We all live and die by the decisions we make. If one has robbed banks earlier in one's life, do you really think a bank will hire that felony bank robber? Um, the answer is no.

The HR manager at Bed & Breakfast should have been fired for gross stupidity. The adage goes: where there's a will, there's a way (not to hire someone).

May 29, 2014 03:24 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

If all of the consequences of committing a felony are eventually removed to be "fair" or "politically correct", what incentive is left to NOT commit a felony in the first place?

May 29, 2014 08:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Most businesses policies on hiring felons are this: they check the applicant on CCAP. If the person is a felon or they don't like anything else on CCAP, they lie to the applicant and say that the person lacks the skill-sets that the employer is looking for. That why HR departments exist: to lie to people under the cover of business law.

May 30, 2014 08:31 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

It is an interesting dance... you can take the box off the job application and tell the HR person to not discourage felons from applying, but there are other ways... my husband just applied for a warehouse position and the company has asked permission to do a background check on him. He does have to sign a form, but if he doesn't sign, you know he won't be considered. And it's a warehouse position - he's not handling money, he's not working with children (the two big reasons I wouldn't want a felon hired for a specific job). The company is choosing to screen him anyway. Fairness, sadly, is often an illusion.

Jan 5, 2015 05:32 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Some pretty ignorant comments made here. I was convicted of a felony over 15 years ago, which I was told was a wobler at the time. I did not go to prison and completed my jail sentence and probation without incident. I have coached youth baseball, football, basketball, and volunteer with an organization that teaches inner-city, at risk youth positive life skill through snowboarding. I have missed out on multiple job opportunities because of a mistake I made 17 years ago. It was not drug related and was a victim-less crime. I have been a union pipefitter since 1999 and would like to advance my career with a city, county, state or private employer. People make mistakes and people learn and grow from them. If there were an 11th commandment, it should read; Thou Shall Not Judge

Mar 4, 2015 07:11 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I agree END Discrimination now!!!

Mar 22, 2015 02:05 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

"If all of the consequences of committing a felony are eventually removed to be "fair" or "politically correct", what incentive is left to NOT commit a felony in the first place?"... How about the incentive to not go to jail/prison for a possible very lengthy time, the wasted time, not seeing loved ones, the bad things that happen in prison, fines and/or probation, etc., etc.? Sounds like a nice incentive to me. You act as if people that are felons were able to get jobs, that there would be no punishment for their actions, which is complete bs.

Apr 26, 2015 02:47 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I was set up by a felony"friend" 15 years ago that wanted to earn an extra $1000 buy working for crime stoppers. I ended up with a felony drug conviction. The only mistake I made in my life! I have maintaineted employment in management for the last ten years, until the company closed. Now I can not even get a min wage job because everyone sees my record and not my work ethic or qualifications. I started a job two weeks ago, and when they finally completed by background check they called me to recend my offer of employment. This has to stop!

May 18, 2015 08:56 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

May 18, 2015 08:57 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous


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