This week we have a special guest blogger, with a very unique perspective on the subject of hiring candidates with criminal histories. Her name is Lisa Forbes. Lisa has studied law and various rehabilitation treatments to learn how to restore herself and others with criminal histories. Through her work in the prison system, the Illinois Institute for Community Law and Free F.U.T.U.R.E.S., Lisa has helped countless restored citizens develop skills to gain employment and identify employment opportunities. Lisa’s mission is to change the mindsets of the decision makers in companies so that they can see employing restored citizens as a viable, safe and profitable option. You can learn more about Lisa by visiting her website and by connecting with her on LinkedIn. Join The EmpLAWyerologist after the jump in the first of this two (maybe three)-part interview/post to hear what Lisa has to say to employers on this very relevant, and very timely issue.
Q: You recently wrote that “EEOC is Right, But Also So Very Wrong.” What do you mean by that?
A: EEOC includes restored citizens in its definition of those Americans who should be afforded the opportunity to work. This is positive because hiring restored citizens is good for employers, for workforce competitiveness, for social safety, and for the country. The EEOC has also done some things that work against this goal, however.
Q: What is a “restored citizen” and how is that inclusion among those who should have job opportunities a positive?
A: A restored citizen refers to someone who has or is in the process of restoring their lives after incarceration.
In answer to the second part of the question, in addition to needing consumers of goods and services, businesses also need good employees. By ignoring qualified candidates simply because they happen to be a restored citizen, businesses are missing out on high-caliber contributors to their bottom line.
Restored citizens, paradoxically, are often some of the best employees. They are usually so happy to be hired, so conscious of how difficult it is for them to get a job, they often will do whatever it takes just to keep that job once they get it. Restored citizens who are gainfully employed are much less likely to re-offend than those who remain unemployed upon release.
Believe it or not, many restored citizens have valuable skills that they have used to run profitable street operations that are in fact transferable into almost any business and any industry. They may therefore know a lot about how to create a money-making enterprise, and could help you to legally make money in yours. Many restored citizens have also earned college degrees and professional certificates while incarcerated, making them well qualified for more than a mere entry-level transitional job, and make life-long careers out of those jobs.
Q: What then, do you think EEOC is doing right, and what would you like to see them do differently?
A: The EEOC is right in not claiming that restored citizens are a protected class. Restored citizens have no entitlement or right to be hired, and no one disputes that.
The EEOC is wrong in making this issue a matter of litigation. It is treating employers like the enemy, rather than making the business case that would persuade employers to be their partner. The EEOC has sued companies for using the same type of background check that it uses. It has offered a detailed list of best practices for employers to follow when utilizing criminal history information in employment decisions. If it is implementing its own best practices, it should be willing to present its procedures as a template other companies could copy in order to avoid litigation. Instead, the agency maintains that its own policies and practices are irrelevant as a matter of law. It is the epitome of hypocrisy for EEOC to hold employers to a certain standard but not reveal its own procedures and processes for background checks.
Finally, EEOC liaisons are not giving employers any insights into the minds of ex-offenders so you can know how to follow these laws safely. This is where I come in. Employers need someone to walk them through the process, and help them to avoid the pitfalls along the way.
Q: What legitimate concerns do you think employers have about hiring restored citizens, and how would you address them?
Fear is at the heart of this issue for employers. They have a legal responsibility to protect their existing personnel, themselves and the public. I submit, however, that hiring and working with restored citizens isn’t going to change their life as dramatically as they might think. I’d like to let employers in on a secret: you’re already hiring restored citizens. Despite the way they market themselves in this age of easy information, background check companies are not infallible. People just like you have already hired restored citizens–like me. I’ve worked in various companies including law firms in different states, and despite having been placed there by employment agencies I have passed background checks. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one. So restored citizens are already working for you – you just don’t know who they are.
Here’s another secret: some of your current employees are already closely related or connected to restored citizens. People generally do not discuss the fact that a spouse, parent, child, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousins, or significant other has been incarcerated. Yet given the tens of millions of people in this country with criminal convictions, odds are extremely high that every office has someone in it that is already connected to a restored citizen. For example: Barb was a personal friend of mine. Her husband Jim’s cousin was Ray LaHood. Ray LaHood was President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation. That puts me within four people of the President of the United States. So employers may be surprised to discover how little chance there is of some kind of employee revolt just because a restored citizen has been hired – given that some of them already live with or have family members who are restored citizens. Consider this: in some states restored citizens are barred from living in public housing. The more fortunate restored citizens who can’t find jobs and can’t get public housing wind up sleeping on a sympathetic relative’s sofa. Some of those relatives are your employees, and may even live in the same gated community as you—and probably wish you would hire the relative sleeping on their sofa. Because of my experience and history of personal restoration and professional transformation, Lisa Forbes Inc. is able to elicit enough trust from your employees for them to reveal (confidentially) that they are, in fact, perfectly comfortable being around restored citizens.
Q: Who do you represent: restored citizens or employers?
LFI is an intermediary between the two. We need a paradigm shift. Employers need to see restored citizens as part of a solution to their need for qualified American workers. Neither group need be antagonistic to the other.
Join us next week for the conclusion of this interview with Lisa. If you have questions or comments for Lisa, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question might be answered in an upcoming post.
Disclaimer: This post’s contents are for informational purposes only, are not legal advice and do not create an attorney-client relationship. Always consult with competent employment counsel on any issues discussed here.
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