Overcoming Second-Chance Hiring Anxiety
Business owners throughout Southern Oregon are having trouble hiring staff. Turnover rates are high. In times like these, employers need to give “second chance” job applicants another look. Who is a second-chance, or justice-involved, applicant? The term refers to applicants who have been involved with the justice system, whether at the federal, state or local level.
During Summer 2022 both Jackson and Josephine counties had functionally 0% unemployment. Many companies have openings that have been vacant for more than two quarters. Unemployment increased in Jackson County from its low of 3.7%1 in July to 4.3% in November 2022, largely due to seasonal agriculture positions. However, the problem still remains: far too many open positions and far too few qualified persons to fill them. Our first Finding the Best article emphasized veterans as an underutilized employee group. Now we focus on second-chance employees as another solution to employers’ ongoing workforce woes.
According to an ACLU report, nearly 1 in 3 adult Americans have a criminal record.2 In 2019 alone, 189,000 people were released from prison or jail in Oregon.3 That’s roughly equivalent to 5% of the 2022 Oregon population over 18, and that’s the release data for only one year. Multiply that number by 5 years, and that ACLU statistic is not so farfetched. When you as an employer are looking to hire, you may be nervous about hiring a candidate with a criminal record. However, ruling out all second-chance candidates limits your hiring pool. In tight labor markets, most employers cannot afford to ignore this large group.
Can you, as an employer, trust a second-chance employee? In a paper from 2018, the Institute of Labor Economics states, “So far, the evidence on tenure has shown that having a criminal background makes an employee less likely to leave voluntarily and likely to have a longer tenure. Employees with a criminal record are no more likely to be terminated involuntarily in customer service positions, but more likely in a sales position. 4 In fact, studies of second-chance candidates in the workforce show that these employees will have less turnover precisely because they had to work harder to get hired.
In Scotton’s experience running a franchise quick service restaurant, the back-of-house staff was almost entirely composed of formerly incarcerated people. While their offenses varied, their work ethic was consistent: always showing up on time, always fulfilling if not exceeding expectations. They went the extra mile to both show and receive respect. No employee is perfect, but in Scotton’s experience these employees were excellent team members. He was able to maintain a full staff for seven months without a single position turning over.
In fact, with higher retention rates and greater loyalty, job seekers with criminal histories are “a better pool for employers,” according to researchers. Companies are recognizing this advantage. At Total Wine & More, human resources managers found that annual turnover on average was 12.2% lower for employees with criminal records.5
What about lack of experience? Since some individuals spend a long time behind bars, they lack skills when reentering society. In Jackson County, the Pioneer Project is working to help second-chance individuals gain the social and technical skills needed to reenter the working world. The project prospectus released this year states:
The Pioneer Project is seeking to combine education, social service, and community to bolster our community in exciting new ways. [The Pioneer Project] addresses social concerns including reduced recidivism, increased community housing, and a pathway to happier, safer communities now and in the future by increasing connection and breaking the cycles of poverty, addiction, and trauma-related problems.
The plan seeks to enroll formerly incarcerated persons in a wrap-around service that provides a chance at BOLI certified pre-apprenticeship trade experience combined with housing and mental health services.
Certainly second-chance candidates will merit greater scrutiny during the hiring process. Oregon’s Fair Chance hiring laws (also known as “ban the box” law) stipulate that employers may not ask about a job candidate’s criminal record until an interview has been provided. Once the candidate has been interviewed, the employer may wish to run a background check.
However, not all background checks are reliable. Be aware that errors often occur. According to the Back to Business report, “Contracting with a qualified agency is critical because a lot of background check data is wrong or incomplete. In fact, one study of New York State found that 87 percent of criminal records reported included at least one error.”If possible, it’s best to use a background check agency that follows guidelines set forth by the National Association of Background Screeners.
In the past, the Governor’s Reentry Council Business Implementation Team convened the “Second Chance Employers Tour,” a series of discussions throughout the state, most recently in Southern Oregon in 2018. With enough momentum and involvement from employers interested in this issue, Southern Oregon can revitalize this important conversation.
One objection many employers have to hiring second-chance or justice-involved people is the chance that the new hire may commit another crime while on the job. To mitigate any possible liability, there are two federal programs that incentivize employers to hire from marginalized groups. One resource is the Federal Bonding Program (FBP). which offers a $5,000 bond at no cost to either the employer or employee that insures the employer against any liability incurred by a new employee for the first six months on the job. Specific crimes covered are theft, larceny, and embezzlement. It applies to candidates who have been involved in the justice system or who experience other barriers to employment. For more information, contact Jarred Parker, Federal Bonding Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another resource is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program. This program covers job candidates from marginalized groups like veterans, recipients of state assistance, or people with difficult work histories. Employers can receive tax credits from $1,500 to $9,600 per year based on the employee’s wages and hours worked. To learn about WOTC resources in your area, connect with the Workforce Investment Board that serves your county.
Second-chance candidates can pose concerns for employers, but the payoff is valuable. If you are looking for employees who will be loyal, punctual and hard-working, it is worth your while to consider “second-chance” candidates. Find library resources on second-chance hiring.
1 https://www.qualityinfo.org/rogue-valley Accessed Nov 20, 2022
2 Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company. Trone Private Sector and Education Advisory Council, 2017. Accessed Nov 20, 2022 Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)
3 Prison Policy Initiative, Mass Incarceration by State, (Accessed Nov 20, 2022) https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2022/08/25/releasesbystate/
4 Criminal Background and job performance, IZA Journal of Labor Policy, (Accessed Nov 18th, 2022)
5 Back to Business report, p.8
6 Back to Business report, p. 15
About the Authors
Roslyn Donald is the business librarian for Jackson County Library District. Her mission is to support residents in reaching their economic potential. The business librarian is trained to help small businesses, nonprofits and job seekers find the information they need to make decisions. When you Book a Librarian, you will be connected with resources and services that match your needs.
Marta Tarantsey supports Southern Oregon communities and businesses as the Regional Development Officer with Business Oregon. While her team’s work shifted heavily towards pandemic economic response and business and community fire recovery in 2020, she continues to support start-up and existing business support ecosystem efforts.
Daniel Scotton graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy and a B.B.A with an International Concentration from Hamline University in 2019. He returned to the Rogue Valley in 2021 where he began his role of Business Services Consultant at Equus Workforce with a background that includes almost a decade in the hospitality industry, as well as a decade of volunteer work in areas such as public speaking and job readiness training, having worked primarily with youth organizations such as DECA, Future Business Leaders of America, Business Professionals of America, and Wayzata’s Compass Program.