Give second chances

Does HR belong in the conversation about second-chance legislation? Absolutely, according to Johnny C. Taylor, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

"The fact of the matter is when we have six million jobs that are going unfilled in this country every year, employers need access to talent from wherever it comes," Taylor said during a press briefing at the association's annual show and conference. "[T]his notion that we can just have a blanket prohibition against giving people second chances when we need some of those people to do jobs…we have to find talent from wherever we find it."

Do ex-offenders pose a higher risk to their employer? Not necessarily, according to researchers from Northwestern University. A May 2017 report found that people with criminal records have lower turnover rates and, in many cases, perform their jobs as well or better than their peers who do not have records. The study also found that, with the exception of sales people, ex-convicts are no more likely to be fired for reasons of misconduct than people who do not have a record.

Nonetheless, some concerns remain. A new study from SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute found that legal liabilities, regulations and the reactions from other workers were among the reasons employees gave for being apprehensive about hiring former offenders. Taylor acknowledged that there are legitimate issues that need to be addressed.

"[B]ecause oftentimes people do recidivate," he said, "and so how do we deal with that in a context of work? And what about the interest of the employees who need to be protected as well? They know they should be able to come to the workplace. How do you balance it?"

Clearly, it's a complicated issue. So where do we start? Taylor offered these ideas.

Prepare them. Making sure these workers are successful begins by "preparing them with the skills to go into the market," said Taylor. He spoke of an employer in Texas who is working with jails, prisons and halfway houses to help identify the skills incarcerated person have and them offer training in those areas during their final year of confinement.

Protect employers. "The HR people [and] the lawyers are afraid of bringing someone into the workplace for fear that if that person does recidivate or does something bad in the workplace, they're going to be sued," Taylor explained. He talked about a program in Texas that is offering reform protection for companies that hire people who served time in jail. Initiatives like this are key to making second chance programs work. "If we can move some of these things, we can go a long way toward solving that, those issues," said Taylor.

Provide the right context. "If you've been sentenced, and you serve that sentence, and you're out, it shouldn't be that you're resentenced every day for the rest of your life; we just don't believe that," said Taylor, addressing a question about employing people who were convicted of sexual offenses. "What we've got to do is find the right employment context for you." He offered as example jobs that can be done remotely or that limit interaction with other people, such as call centers and truck driving. Finding the right context, Taylor said, will require HR departments to drop biases and take a thoughtful approach to these situations.

"What we're going to encourage our members to do is be more critical, think more critically about this," Taylor said. "We have 6 million unfilled jobs. We've got to solve for that or America can't win."

Kanoe Namahoe is an editor with SmartBrief Education. She covers issues related to education technology and the workforce.

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