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Fair Chance Hiring: What Is It?

by Ali Gordon


Across the United States, companies and government bodies have created or are again considering policies to enact fair chance hiring measures. Businesses of all sizes have benefitted from fair chance hiring practices both with and without these laws in place. So what is fair chance hiring?

Second Chances Protected by Legislation

Local, state, and federal governments are responsible for broadening protection against discrimination, and this is just as true for employment laws. Fair chance--or second chance and ban-the-box laws--are various legal protections designed to give more individuals a fair chance at employment. 

For example, the House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations in Louisiana is currently debating an act that aims to extend employment options for people with legal system history by redefining the screening process.

The act would require employers to overlook legal history that did not result in convictions -- which was the scenario for nearly 3 out of 4 people in American jails last year. The act would also ask companies to weigh the length of time since a legal violation occurred and the specific context of each case when making hiring choices. This aims to protect against inaccuracies and problems from unclear legal system history. 

Ban-the-box laws are another form of fair chance hiring legislation that builds on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines for employment. Fair chance hiring was popularized by ban-the-box laws and community organizing that started in Hawaii, then Minnesota, and now extends to at least 33 states and over 150 cities and counties across the country. Manager of Talent Acquisition at the Society for Human Resource Management, Roy Maurer explained:

“Primarily covering the public sector, many ban-the-box laws also apply to private-sector employers, seeking to protect applicants and candidates convicted of a crime from automatic disqualification during the selection process. In some cases, employers can inquire or check for criminal history after conducting a first interview; others must wait until they've extended a job offer.”

These various fair chance hiring laws across all levels of government consider timing and hiring patterns in an attempt to ensure more equitable employment opportunities and outcomes.

Companies Can Proactively Expand Their Fair Chance Hiring Policies

Companies do not need to wait for legal mandates to integrate fair chance hiring into their current employment processes. In fact, many businesses have a long history of fair chance hiring that challenges employment norms and stigmas harming themselves, local communities, and prospective employees.

In 2015, companies signed the “Fair Chance Pledge” to indicate brand commitments to equitable hiring practices. In addition to acknowledging the impact of the criminal legal system and mass incarceration on employment prospects -- almost 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have a criminal record -- the pledge also stated resolve to hire across these experiences. 

Other businesses extended their commitment to include supporting community reentry efforts, mentorship, and job training that offers human resource staff with knowledge about fair decision-making in context of prior incarceration or legal system history. 

These practices continue today, and businesses have found ways to make them creative and custom to their brand values in ways that benefit everyone. Some companies write internal policies to buttress efforts for employment equity within their hiring culture. Others have benefited from the Work Opportunity Tax Credit that motivates more fair chance hiring for individuals facing employment hurdles, and still other companies ensure their background checks aren’t used simply to disqualify people based on these kinds of red flags. Fair chance hiring also means offering a liveable wage -- not taking advantage of the inequity of the system to exploit potentially cheaper labor. 

Fair chance hiring requires a holistic, humanized pre-screen process to better understand red flags, ensure fair practices, and find a good fit. Businesses at all stages of development and profitability have benefitted from taking small and large steps to ensure fair chance hiring is a perennial part of their company culture.

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