If you’re not familiar with “Ban the Box” legislation, you’re not alone — but it’s an important legal trend for business leaders to understand. Most states have some law that prohibits businesses from asking job applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. (Hence, the campaign to ban the checkbox that asks people if they’ve ever been convicted.) That doesn’t mean you can’t ask a candidate about convictions, but it does mean that you can’t do it until the offer stage.

Blanket rejection of convicted felons is against the law. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines for when you can reject someone based on a felony conviction. The guidelines are complex, but the main gist is that the conviction needs to be related to the specific position in order to reject someone. So, you can reject an accountant applicant who was convicted of embezzling, but you likely can’t reject the same person for a field service role if the role doesn’t involve handling cash.

But there are many reasons, legal or otherwise, to consider every qualified candidate you can find.

Expand Your Hiring Pool

In tight labor markets, finding qualified candidates is hard enough without rejecting huge swaths of the population. The numbers are hard to pin down, but estimates go as high as 65 million Americans with felony convictions. That’s a huge percentage of the workforce. When evaluating a candidate, the first two questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Is this person qualified for the job?
  • Is this person likely to do a good work?

Sure, you might be concerned about on-the-job problems. But convicted felons with steady employment are far less likely to commit another crime. A North Carolina study found that while the recidivism rate overall was over 40 percent, the rate dropped to 5 percent for employed convicted felons. Chances are, you’re overstating the risks to your business. And while you expand your applicant pool by including convicted felons, you’re also doing a service to your community.

Hiring a Convicted Felon Can Make Fiscal Sense

Companies that employ convicted felons can reap financial benefits. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives businesses credit for hiring hard-to-place individuals, including convicted felons.

Not a Perfect Solution

One of the problems with ‘Ban the Box’ legislation is that some businesses are so afraid of hiring convicted felons that they don’t interview young black and hispanic men. Don’t do that. Not only is it illegal, but it’s also short-sighted. You need every qualified applicant you can get your hands on.

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.