This is an interview with Steve, the General Counsel (chief lawyer) of the company that hired George, an individual with a felony criminal record, who was on probation. There are many misconceptions and fears about hiring someone with a criminal record, so it's worthwhile to understand how the attorney and human resources (HR) department thought about the situation.
Here's the link to George's story.
Louise: As General Counsel, what framework did you use to evaluate the risks involved?
Steve: First we brought him in, sat him down, and asked, “What’s the deal?” We just did. And what was really good, he didn’t try to weasel out of it. He slumped and said, “That is all over. It was a while back... It was stupid. And I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.”
He didn’t try to say he was framed or set up, instead he said, “I did a really dumb thing.” The thing that was important for me. He never said, “I made a mistake.” I hate it when they say that. It was a gross error in judgment. He said, “I was young and stupid.” He owned what he had done. Which to me was important.
Louise: What concerns did you have from a legal perspective?
Steve: There was nothing from a legal perspective that brings any concerns for me per se because it was an internal position. He was going to have his hands on the network but he’d be working on it for months before. Nothing had changed but our knowledge. He was on probation, continuing on probation, so we wanted to know what was his probation schedule. We wanted to make damn sure he got there because we were relying on him and needed to make sure he wouldn’t have any problems. We didn’t have to worry about customer-facing issues, because he wasn’t, and that made it easier. We never owed explanations to anyone about anything.
Beyond that, we set it up that he would visit with the VP of HR, for about an hour a week, just to make sure everything was fine. After 3 weeks, the VP HR said, “This is stupid. We don’t need to do that. If George has problems he’ll come see me. Let's not waste our time or his with a requirement he doesn’t need to do.”
Louise: Did you perceive any risk in not retaining George’s services?
Steve: No risk, because it’s an “at will” employment thing. We had every right to hire or not.
Louise: Did your HR policy speak to criminal backgrounds?
Steve: Yes. While it did, all it said was, that we ran a background check. There wasn’t anything that said a person was not eligible for hiring if they had a record. There was nothing in there. Only that we would do a background check. There was nothing formalized about who we would or would not hire. And it is not a good idea to have that kind of thing because, frankly, you might meet someone like George and then what would you do? You need the flexibility.
Louise: Was the policy changed afterwards?
Louise: How was your business insurance impacted?
Steve: It wasn’t. I know that I didn’t do it, but I know that we checked. And there were no issues because he was not customer-facing.
Louise: How did your hiring practices change after taking on George?
Steve: We didn’t put anything in place to actively seek out people like George. But I’d say the experience changed some minds with respect to how you look at people who may have some spots in their background. I looked at it from the perspective of “Why not? What could be the impediment? Once I decided there was none other than prejudice of hiring someone convicted for drug-dealing. Several of the senior leadership in the company were people of faith and talked of redemption. Well, here was the opportunity.
… Fear says go with a weaker candidate, but isn’t the smarter thing to do to go with the stronger candidate and monitor them?
Louise: How did you view the monitoring cost?
Steve: It was simply the cost of time. Was it worth it? Absolutely in two aspects:
It gave us piece of mind, that we were sort of keeping things from getting out of control, which of course they never even remotely did. To some extent George appreciated it. He had had this thing in his background and he needed to own it and he recognized that we cared enough about keeping him out of trouble that we were keeping an eye. But we didn’t do it long. It was waste of everybody’s time.
The other thing was, there was some time away from the office, whenever he went to see his PO. But the rest of us still have to go to the dentist, and do all kinds of things. Even though we didn’t ask him, he worked extra hours to make up.
Louise: Did you have conversations with other employees?
Steve: We tried to keep it confidential. We didn’t see any need to tell anybody else. The way to handle the thing was to just have it as between the IT, HR and senior execs who knew and agreed we wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know if George ever said anything to coworkers. And we didn’t say, we have this felon coming to work for us. In any case, he’d already been working there.
Thanks to Steve for being willing to talk about his experience. We hope this is helpful to other companies considering hiring someone with a criminal record, to workforce professionals helping individuals get hired, and to individuals seeking a second chance. For more on this topic online, search the hashtag #FairHiring.