This is the story of George.

George started work as a network engineer at a publicly traded company through a contracting agency. After a few months, the company decided to hire George on a permanent basis. They worked it out with the agency. Then they did a background check as part of making the offer and found he had a felony conviction for drug dealing, within the past year. It’s an interesting thing, that as a contractor, he had flexibility with his hours, so visits to his probation officer hadn’t gotten in the way of his performance.

The hiring manager’s immediate assumption was that the company couldn’t hire him, and that’s when my contact, the General Counsel (GC), got involved. The head of IT really wanted George, and while the GC thought it was unusual, he found no reason not to hire George. So the GC took the issue to the COO and pointed out how the company leaders value community engagement, and that George had proven himself on the job already. The COO involved the VP of HR, who initially was reluctant but knew it was the right thing to do. As a group, the senior leadership team decided to go ahead and hire George. There was no reason not to. Everything went very well, and he was a great employee. And that might be where you expect the story to end, but it doesn't.

A year later, George died of a heart attack.

After the funeral, the company got a note from his widow, left with two young children. She told them how proud George had been and grateful for the opportunity of a permanent job and to be part of the organization, how important it had been for him to have that standing in front of his kids. Because the company had hired him, he had the basic package of benefits and that meant life insurance. As his wife explained, while it wasn’t enough money that they didn’t have to worry, it did give them some breathing room to get things figured out. By giving George a job, they had not only given him opportunity, but afforded dignity to the whole family.

75m Americans have a criminal history, out of a total 150m workers

This story echoed what I’d learned from interviewing over thirty different alternative staffing agency team members: that placement needs to focus on the hiring person, because people hire people. It also shows how widespread the ignorance is about hiring someone with a criminal record. The National Employment Law Project estimates that 75m Americans have a criminal history, out of a total 150m people working full or part-time. If we discount all such individuals from the hiring pool, we shouldn’t be surprised when candidates are expensive and hard to find. This site has a good guide to state by state rules for employers and employees. And here is the EEOC guidance on background checks. This is a great simple guide to provide to HR or an employer, so they don't make ill-informed decisions that expose them to liability for wrongly denying employment.