Guest post: How to Handle Applicants With Felony Convictions

Maryland became the ninth U.S. state to “ban the box” in early May. This initiative means that public sector employers can no longer ask applicants about their criminal history – at least not until later on in the hiring process, according to Employment Screening Resources.

Since the Senate Bill 4 was signed, Maryland joins nearly 50 U.S. cities and eight other states in “banning the box” from job applications. All indications point to many more states and municipalities following suit in the coming years. In other words, more efforts are underway to make private and public sector employment opportunities fair to those who have a criminal record.

Formerly Convicted Applicants

These days, what’s a “convicted felon?” Offenses like public urination, protesting, or disturbing the peace can warrant a felony arrest, even though these incidents are fairly minor compared to other, more severe crimes that can actually result in jail time. A conviction can stick with a person, and make a difference between getting a job and being passed for one, depending on how the employer operates. Most job applications that ask applicants about a criminal history often have an explanation box, where the person can provide an explanation. Just checking that box can be a deterrent for many employers, regardless of how long ago the incident took place or what type of person the applicant is today.

Fair Applications & Interviews

Maryland’s recent actions, along with separate initiatives taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), encourage private employers not to eliminate “the box” as well. Instead of the box, employers should avoid immediately judging people for past actions by interviewing and considering all applicants thoroughly, as Forbes suggests. Employers should conduct criminal background checks only after they’ve gotten to know the candidates, so to not base the hiring decision solely on their past. Brian Ferdinand of Liquid Holdings couldn’t have become a multi-millionaire entrepreneur without taking a few chances on people he believed in. Greystone Logistics, a recycled plastics manufacturer in Bettendorf, Iowa, not only encourages employers to not judge a book by its cover, but points out potential tax incentives for giving applicants with past records a chance to work.

HR Tips

Here are some other pointers on how to handle applicants with felony convictions:

  • The EEOC takes the position that passing on applicants based on criminal records is against Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, according to Fisher & Phillips, attorneys at law. Furthermore, they state that all employers should review their hiring policies to ensure this isn’t being violated, thereby opening up potential lawsuits. For instance, the attorneys recommend employers stay away from any business policies that state they won’t hire any applicants with criminal records. A blanket policy likes this could land an employer in hot water.
  • Legit Business Reasons: It’s not against the law to pass on hiring someone due to legitimate business reasons. For instance, if you operate a long-haul trucking company, it’s legitimate to pass on an applicant with recent DUI arrests. However, it might not be acceptable to not hire someone for that same position because he or she was arrested for possession of medical cannabis.


About the author

Originally from Memphis, Brian Garcia lives in the Baltimore area and writes for several online magazines.