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Second-Chance Employers
Do you automatically set aside applications from people with criminal records? You might want to reconsider that. Let's take a look at becoming a second-chance employer.

What Are Second-Chance Employers?

Second-chance employers hire employees with criminal records. This provides employment opportunities for people who typically have a hard time finding employment.

What to Consider Before Becoming a Second-Chance Employer

Let's consider some of the pros and cons that come with second-chance hiring.

Pros of Second-Chance Hiring

When you come across a candidate with a criminal record, you may be tempted to pause or reject the application outright. However, a record doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad decision to hire them. Here are some pros when it comes to second chance hiring.
  • Massive talent pool. It is estimated that 70 million people in the US have been arrested or have a conviction on their record. If you choose to hire employees with a criminal record, you can greatly broaden your talent pool.
  • Second-chance employees are loyal. Employees with a criminal history are less likely to quit. Many of these employees are grateful for this second chance and will work harder than other employees.
  • Tax breaks. As an employer, you can receive tax breaks for hiring former felons. These tax credits are offered on the federal and state level under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

Cons of Second-Chance Hiring

While there are plenty of benefits that come with hiring employees who have a criminal record, there can also be risks.
  • Recidivism. Employees with a criminal history run the risk of relapsing, particularly through parole or probation violations. Having an employee convicted while employed can create a negative view of your company and make your employees feel unsafe.
  • Danger in the workplace. If the employee relapses or starts showing behavior in line with previous actions, it can put other employees in danger. And while an employee’s criminal history should remain confidential, if other employees hear about another employee’s criminal history, it could make them feel unsafe. Employees might be reluctant to work with an employee who has a criminal history.
  • Trust issues. Even if you hire a second-chance employee who has a sincere desire to change, their previous criminal history could make it difficult for you or the hiring manager to trust them. That can strain the relationship or lead to treating the employee differently from others.

Hiring Tips for Second-Chance Employers

Here are some tips to make second-chance hiring a smooth process.

Tip 1: Provide a Mentor

Many second-chance employees are just reentering the workforce. Depending on the length of time they were in prison, they might need some time to adjust to working again and being in the real world. One way to help with this transition is to provide the second-chance employee with a mentor. This mentor can play a key role in providing proper training and making sure their transition is going well.

Tip 2: Be Transparent, but Keep Personal Information Confidential

You should let all your employees know that you are a second-chance employer, but that does not mean they need to know who has a criminal history. Being transparent will help other employees understand why you are a second-chance employer, but need not put unneeded attention on a second-chance employee.

Tip 3: Hire the Best Talent

This seems like an obvious point, but it is important to emphasize. If you are a second-chance employer, you’re in a great position to give an opportunity to employees whose past might not allow that at other companies. However, you should still strive to hire the best talent regardless of criminal history. You shouldn’t choose someone who is less qualified than another candidate because they have a criminal history and you'd like to provide them the job opportunity. Much like diversity initiatives, you want your company to be diverse, but it shouldn’t force you into not hiring the best talent.

Tip 4: Create a Supportive and Inclusive Environment

One of the best ways for second-chance employees to succeed in their role is to have a supportive and inclusive culture so employees won’t feel like they are an outsider or different from other employees. One example of being inclusive is having second-chance employees from other companies come and talk about the second-chance program to all employees and how it was beneficial for them. Doing something like this will help the second-chance employees feel more comfortable while helping other employees understand the contributions that second-chance employees can make.

How to Get Started as a Second-Chance Employer

Choosing to become a second-chance employer is a big decision and can be a scary one. Here are some important steps you should take.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Before you start hiring second-chance employees, do more research. What kind of impact could it have on your culture and your other employees? Make sure you are fully aware of the potential impact this could have on every part of your business. For example, will it change the way you recruit? If so, what will be your new recruiting strategy?

Step 2: Create a Proposal

Create a proposal to show to leadership. In this proposal, outline what kind of second-chance employees you want to consider and ones you would not consider. Submit a written policy that would be included in the employee handbook. Outline what would change in your recruiting and interviewing process. Share what you've learned from your research and the benefits of becoming a second-chance employer.

Step 3: Communicate to employees

Once you have buy-in from leadership—but before you start hiring second-chance employees—let your employees know about your new hiring initiative. This will give them a chance to ask any questions or bring up any concerns they might have. Again, employees shouldn’t know if an employee is a second-chance employee, but it is important to be transparent with them so they aren't blindsided if they find out about someone having a criminal record. This can be included in the handbook as a way to communicate it to new employees once it is implemented.
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Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner Pierce, PHR

Tanner has over 4 years of HR professional experience in various fields of HR. He has experience in hiring, recruiting, employment law, unemployment, onboarding, outboarding, and training to name a few. Most of his experience comes from working in the Professional Employer and Staffing Industries. He has a passion for putting people in the best position to succeed and really tries to understand the different backgrounds people come from.
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