Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

Top 3 Tips For Small Businesses Hiring Felons

It's been a boilerplate part of every employment application for decades: "Have you been convicted of a crime?" For employers, it may have been an easy way to cull the list of job applicants, or an attempt to weed out any unsavory characters.

But there are movements afoot to remove the question from job applications, or, if not, to incentivize businesses to hire felons and ex-convicts. While small businesses may still be wary of hiring someone with a criminal record, there might be a few good reasons to do so. So here are a few legal angles to consider if you're thinking about hiring felons, from our archives:

1. Should I Consider Hiring Felons?

While it may be a non-starter for some small business owners, there are some good reasons to hire felons. One is that it might be illegal not to, if your "exclusionary policy or practice is not job related and consistent with business necessity," according to the EEOC. Also, some cities and states are giving preference on contracts or tax incentives to businesses that hire or employ ex-convicts. So having a blanket policy against hiring felons may end up costing you.

2. Do I Have to Hire a Felon?

Just because there are good reasons to hire someone with a criminal record doesn't mean your small business absolutely needs to. But if you are refusing to hire a person based solely on a previous felony conviction, you need to make sure the reason is job related and consistent with a business necessity. The EEOC has comprehensive guidance designed to help employers make sure any hiring policy is consistent with federal civil rights laws.

3. Don't Get Sued for Refusing to Hire a Criminal

While it is not illegal to ask applicants about their criminal history, businesses should be careful not to automatically exclude applicants with any criminal record. Instead, tailor your screening policy and practices to the specific job for which you are hiring. This involves asking the right questions: not just if a person has been convicted of a crime, but how that crime might relate to their job functions and a business necessity.

It's essential when hiring felons, or refusing to, that your small business has clear and consistent screening policies and practices. If you have questions about crafting or implementing those policies, contact an experienced employment law attorney.

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