Employee privacy, criminal records..

I spent the afternoon looking for case studies on pre-employment criminal background checks… and found little more than scads of companies willing to do them for a fee.. ish.

I should be clear about something up front — I get the need for criminal background checks when someone is working with vulnerable individuals.  I don’t want a pedophile working at Toys R Us or anything.. but, where should the line be drawn?

Companies  are trying to hire employees who won’t steal from them.  I get that.. and they’re trying to protect themselves by getting insurance against employee theft.  The insurance company says that, in order to issue the policy the company must do criminal background checks.  The trouble is that those checks will reject applicants who have NO record of theft.

The thing is, criminals don’t look like the dude at the top of this post.  If someone is going to steal from you, they’re going to do it — and perhaps the “robbers” with more skill simply haven’t been caught yet… there is no background check in the world that can test for actual honesty.

The real trouble comes with felons.  Many kinds of people are convicted of felonies, not all of them are bad — and most of them are qualified to sling Tacos at the Bell.  What happens as a result of these policies is that folks who have served their time and completed the requirements of their probation can’t get jobs… anyplace.

It turns into a version of “reverse” discrimination because immigrants (“legal” or not) don’t have anything on their U.S. criminal background checks.  If you wonder why it seems that every cab driver is from somewhere else and every service job is done by someone who can’t speak good English, that’s probably the case.  Not that those folks don’t deserve jobs as well, but the fact of the matter is that they have an advantage in coming here, if they had a felony conviction from 20 years ago, it wouldn’t show up on a criminal background check.

We have all kinds of rhetoric in this country about giving people a second chance in life.  We tell people who are convicted of crimes that once they’ve satisfied their legal restrictions they’ll be able to move on and become productive members of society — BUT, we’re also unwilling to trust them enough to sweep the lobby at McDonald’s.

Often a person with a criminal past loses the support of their friends and family.  Most of the time their friends and family are having enough trouble trying to make ends meet without supporting a felon who can’t get a job.  If business owners and hiring managers aren’t willing to trust their instincts and hire someone who seems like a good fit, criminal record or no, then what is the applicant with a record supposed to do…. the answer could easily be more crime.

It seems to me that a business that receives benefits from society should also assume some of the risks associated with a person who has a felony, as long as the felony doesn’t have anything to do with the kind of business they’re operating.  To do otherwise is quite similar to ordering a big meal, eating it, and then refusing to pay for it… and any restaurant owner would object to  that behavior.


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