A Battle on the Homefront: Justice-Involved Veterans Seeking Employment
September 15, 2016
Written by the NVTAC Blogger
Lines are drawn
On one hand, when hiring employees with criminal records, employers are worried about their risk of negligent hiring if they fail to do their due diligence in investigating the applicant’s background. An injured party can make a claim against an employer based on the notion that the employer knew or should have known about an employee’s background that could indicate that person may be dangerous or untrustworthy. Employers are understandably concerned about their liability when they hire veterans with felonies.
On the other hand, employers can also be at risk if they exclude job applicants based solely on having a criminal record. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in its Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records, suggests that excluding job applicants who have criminal records may constitute employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Thus, employers are advised to proceed cautiously in their hiring process.
Having a criminal background is not unusual. In fact, around 8 percent of the working-age population in this country has a felony conviction. In 2012 alone, 181,500 veterans were incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails. Once those veterans exit jails and prison, they need housing and a job, and veterans—including ex-felons—make good employees.
On the front-line
Veterans with felonies, like everyone else, want a fair chance at getting hired. Blanket employment policies that exclude all applicants because of a felony not only add an additional punishment to veterans who have done their time for their crime, they are also illegal.
Advocates continue to push ban-the-box ordinances, which remove the criminal history question on job applications, so job seekers with justice-involved backgrounds can present their qualifications to employers and directly answer questions about their backgrounds. Nationwide, more than 100 cities and counties and 24 states have adopted ban-the-box ordinances. In addition, cities such as Houston, Austin, Columbia (MO), and Baltimore are delaying background checks until later in the hiring process.
A Fair Strategy
The Texas Association of Businesses, which is the state’s Chamber of Commerce, says it is considering asking the State Legislature to pass a bill blocking cities and towns from passing local ban-the-box laws, similar to the law that prohibits local minimum wage laws. “We believe that employers need the full picture and full disclosure when hiring someone,” says Cathy DeWitt, the association’s vice president of governmental affairs. “And waiting to ask that question until after the job has been offered is really too late in the process.”
We believe employers should not ask about criminal history on job applications, and instead should interview applicants who present with the best job-related qualifications. The interview process affords the employer every opportunity to assess the justice-involved applicant by considering the age of the offense, its relation to the job and potential job responsibilities, and any evidence of rehabilitation and mitigation, along with the candidate’s strengths. In turn, justice-involved job seekers should be forthright in describing their qualifications for employment and what they have done to mitigate past wrongs.
 DePillis, Lydia. (2016). Studies suggest a downside to the biggest way cities are helping ex-felons get jobs. Houston Chronicle, August 1. Retrieved 8/12/16 from http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/texanomics/article/Studies-show-a-downside-to-the-biggest-way-cities-8997315.php
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Homeless Veteran Reintegration Programs (HVRPs) help justice involved veterans find their place in the workforce. HVRPs can be found at the Grantees Page.
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Preparation of this item was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans’ Employment Training Service under cooperative agreement HV25269-14-75-5-25. This document does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the DOL, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government. The National Veterans Technical Assistance Center (NVTAC) is a partnership among Advocates for Human Potential (AHP), the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) and the U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Services (DOL-VETS). Funded under a cooperative agreement for three years, the NVTAC supports the mission of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) and its stakeholders. AHP engaged additional assistance from the Atlas Research Inc., and Relyon Solutions. NCHV is assisted by Dartmouth College and Easter Seals.