Reducing employment barriers for justice-involved individuals is an essential component of eliminating recidivism. Research tells us the most effective way to decrease the likelihood of someone returning to jail or prison is with access to stable employment. Approximately 70 million adults in the United States have an arrest or conviction record. That translates to nearly 1 in every 3 American adults. In Georgia, 4.2 million of our 10.6 million residents have a criminal record1. These Georgians are excluded from access to the workforce.
Hiring justice-involved individuals helps the employer, our economy, and our communities.
How does it help employers?
- Retention – Studies show that employees with a criminal record have a retention rate that is equal to or higher than the general population2.
- Promotion – Case studies have found that individuals with a conviction are promoted faster3.
- Commitment – Employers have observed their employees with criminal records are more highly motivated and loyal4.
- Protections and Incentives – There are several federal and state level incentives and protections for employers that hire individuals with a criminal record5.
How does it help our economy?
- Increases tax base (economic activity subject to taxation) and boosts sales tax.
- Decreases Gross Domestic Product (GDP) losses (estimated at $80 million annually)6.
How does it help the community?
- Employment is the strongest antidote against reoffending7.
- 5-years after conviction, an individual’s likelihood of reoffending is the same as the general population8.
The Employment Working Group, a group of Georgia-based service providers and government organizations, hosted an employer roundtable at Georgia-Pacific on September 29th, 2017. The event brought together legal representatives, HR directors and hiring managers from a wide range of Georgia-based employers to examine the issue of hiring justice-involved individuals. The objectives were to discuss the benefits of hiring justice-involved individuals to learn about the barriers discouraging employers from hiring those individuals, and to discuss policies that would encourage employers to consider candidates with a criminal record.
The discussion, led by Doug Ammar, Executive Director for the Georgia Justice Project, yielded the following insights:
Top considerations: When considering a justice-involved applicant, employers place an emphasis on:
- An applicant’s honesty about their criminal history;
- Time passed since their last interaction with the justice system;
- Relevance of their charges to the position; and
- Efforts at rehabilitation, involvement in programs and support networks.
Communication: Most employers stated a need for education on strategies for “managing up and down.” Many are unsure how to discuss the topic of hiring justice-involved individuals with company leadership, hiring managers and other employees.
Reputation: The majority of employers shared that their greatest concern regarding hiring justice-involved individuals is the public’s perception and the risk it may pose to their brand or reputation.
The discussion generated suggested solutions that would cause employers to consider employing justice-involved individuals.
Expand Protections and Incentives: While there are currently some protections and incentives for hiring justice-involved individuals, the scope of these protections and incentives should be expanded and there should be efforts to increase employer awareness of the opportunities they present.
Increasing Vetting Mechanisms: There is a preference for applicants who have been ‘vetted’ by another party. This makes the hire feel less risky, and in some cases decreases an employer’s liability.
- Employers stated that applicants with a criminal record found through reputable programs or staffing agencies are more attractive. They have a seal of approval and often ongoing support.
- A large number of employers expressed a strong support for mechanisms that restrict certain convictions in Georgia. If a judge grants the restriction or sealing of a criminal matter to an individual, they have essentially ‘vetted’ the individual’s reintegration into the community. There would then be less of a need for the employer to know about this record, which diminishes their worries.
Georgia Negligent Hiring Protection (O.C.G.A. § 34-7-20 and O.C.G.A. § 51-1-54)
- Law protects employers from negligent hiring and retention claims.
- Creates a rebuttable presumption of due diligence in employment screening.
- Employers will be presumed to have exercised due care in hiring, retaining, or otherwise engaging in activity with the individual who received the certificate or pardon.
- Protection applies to employers that hire individuals that have been pardoned by the State Board of Pardons and Parole.
- Protection applies to employers that hire individuals that have received a program and treatment completion certificate issued by the Department of Corrections and or the Department of Community Supervision.
- Law excludes individuals convicted of murder, felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy and or aggravated sexual battery.
Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for Taxable Employers9
- The WOTC is a federal tax credit available to employers that hire individuals from targeted groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment.
- Ex-Felons are included in the federal WOTC targeted groups.
- A qualified ex-felon is a person hired within a year of:
- Being convicted of a felony or;
- Being released from prison due to a felony conviction.
- Tax credit maxes out at $2,400.00 per eligible employee.
- Pre-screening and certification required.
- Before an employer can claim the tax credit, the employer must obtain certification that an individual is a member of a targeted group.
- Employers must file IRS Form 8850 with their respective state workforce agency within 28-days after the eligible employee begins work.
- Employers claim the tax credit as a general business credit by including IRS Forms 3800 and 5884 along with their business’s related income tax return (i.e., Forms 1040, 1040-SR, 1041, 1120, etc.).
Federal Bonding Program
- $5,000.00 no-cost employer liability bond for hiring justice-involved individuals.
- Bonds can be applied to any job with any employer, in any state, and covers any employee fraud or dishonesty committed on or away from the workplace.
- Full or part-time employees receiving paid wages (with federal taxes automatically deducted from pay) can be bonded, including those hired by temp agencies.
- Coverage for first six months of employment.
- Employment offer must be presented to justice-involved individual prior to bond being issued.
- Bonds issued locally by the Georgia Department of Labor10.
There are specific actions businesses can take to be part of the fair chance hiring movement. Taking the Fair Chance Business Pledge is the first step in the right direction.
“We are committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to participate in the American economy.”
The most important contribution businesses can make to their communities is to give a fair chance to all applicants, to ensure that information regarding an applicant’s criminal record is considered in proper context, and to engage in hiring practices that do not unnecessarily place jobs out of reach for those with a criminal records. Specifically, your business can commit to:
- Banning the box by delaying criminal history questions until later in the hiring process;
- Training human resources staff on making fair decisions regarding applicants with criminal records;
- If your organization does not have a human resource department, you can work with third-party staffing agencies that properly vet prospects;
- Ensuring internships and job training are available to individuals with criminal records;
- Using reliable background check providers to ensure accuracy (official criminal records from Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the Georgia Crime Information Center); and
- Partner with restorative justice organizations that have access to properly vetted candidates and host fair chance employment job fairs.
We encourage you to share best practices and success stories with other employers.
You are not alone! Here is a short list of Georgia companies already hiring justice-involved individuals
- JPMorgan Chase
- Truckers America
- Interstate Distribution
- Consolidated Container Company
- Interlink Communications
- Home Depot
1Georgia Department of Corrections
2Pamela Paulk, V.P. of Human Resources, John Hopkins Hospital & Health Systems, presentation for National Employment Law Project (NELP) webinar titled “Understanding the EEOC’s New Criminal Records Guidance”
3Devah Pager, “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” American Journal of Sociology
4Tom Hillen, “Whitehouse turns to local company on hiring felons”
6“Economic Benefits of Employing Formerly Incarcerated Individuals in Philadelphia,” Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
6Cherrie Bucknor & Alan Barber, Centerfor Economic & Policy Research, “The Price We Pay: Economic Costs of Barriers to Employment for Former Prisoners and People Convicted of Felonies”
7Blumstein, Alfred and Kiminori Nakamura, “Redemption in an era of Widespread Criminal Background Checks,” NIJ Journal
8Christman, Anastasia and Michelle Natividad Rodriguez. Research Supports Fair-Chance Policies. Rep. National Employment Law Project
10Wayne D. Mack – Federal Bonding Coordinator – Georgia Department of Labor – 148 Andrew Young International Blvd. NE, Suite 560, Atlanta, Georgia 30303 – Phone (404)232-3543 – firstname.lastname@example.org