business

Should a Criminal Record Rule Out a Job Applicant?

The goal is an appropriate balance between fairness to job applicants and the employer’s right—indeed, legal obligation—to create a workplace that is safe for employees, customers and business interests.

Q. Many states and cities are prohibiting employers from asking job seekers, on the initial application form, whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. What do you think about this?

A. I agree with supporters of the “ban the box” movement who argue that an applicant who checks this box on a written or online job application is often automatically rejected, without an employer considering factors such as the nature of the crime, its relevance to the job being sought, how much time has elapsed since the crime and what the applicant has done since. That strikes me as unfair to applicants who have learned from their mistakes and want a chance to earn an honest living.

Ban-the-box laws do not prohibit an employer from ever asking applicants whether they have a criminal record, as long as it’s done (according to varying state laws) during a personal interview, after the interview or when a conditional job offer is being made. That strikes an appropriate balance between fairness to the applicant and the employer’s right—indeed, legal obligation—to create a workplace that is safe for employees, customers and business interests.

If an ex-offender has the qualifications to do a given job—and looks better on paper than the other applicants—he or she should get a shot at a personal interview. That’s when the interviewer may (and should) ask all applicants whether they have a criminal record and give those who do the opportunity to explain why it shouldn’t disqualify them. Even if that explanation is persuasive, an employer should always do a professional background check before making a firm offer, lest the employer be held liable for negligent hiring if the ex-offender later harms someone in the workplace.

Ban-the-box laws appropriately allow employers to summarily reject applicants (even with a box to check) whose past crimes would make them risky in a particular job—say, an embezzler working in a bank or a sex offender working with children.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
Dividend Increases: 14 Stocks That Have Doubled Their Payouts
dividend stocks

Dividend Increases: 14 Stocks That Have Doubled Their Payouts

Looking for companies executing substantial dividend increases? These 14 stocks have upped the payout ante by a minimum of 100% this year.
November 26, 2021
Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts
shopping

Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts

Don't let those holiday sale promotions persuade you into buying something now that will be much cheaper later.
November 18, 2021

Recommended

Bias at Work: How to Defuse a Ticking Time Bomb in Your Organization
careers

Bias at Work: How to Defuse a Ticking Time Bomb in Your Organization

An interview with the author of the book “Bias Interrupted” reveals hidden signs of bias in the workplace and offers ideas for what to do to help corr…
November 26, 2021
The Biden Tax Plan: How the Build Back Better Act Could Affect Your Tax Bill
Politics

The Biden Tax Plan: How the Build Back Better Act Could Affect Your Tax Bill

Depending on your income, the Build Back Better Act recently passed by the House could boost or cut your future tax bills.
November 22, 2021
Watch Out for Job Listing Fraud
Scams

Watch Out for Job Listing Fraud

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to find new employment in 2022, be on guard against job-listing scams.
November 22, 2021
What’s Stopping You from Making the Jump to a New Career?
careers

What’s Stopping You from Making the Jump to a New Career?

From procrastination to negative thoughts to paralyzing fear, here are 11 things that hold people back from taking a chance on a fresh start. Check th…
November 12, 2021