Ep 93 – Why You Should Hire Employees with Criminal Backgrounds

hire, employees, background checks, criminals, convictions, workology

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nearly one-third of the adult population has a criminal record. In this hot market for qualified talent, could we be limiting our talent pools simply because someone has a criminal record? This market and this decision not hire a qualified worker because of their criminal history could be impacting your business in ways you can’t imagine simply because you are closing yourself off from a very eager and high performing workforce.

Episode 93: How Much Should Criminal Background Checks Influence Hiring Decisions with Stephanie Hammerwold (@hrhammer)

Stephanie Hammerwold is the co-founder of Pacific Reentry Career Services. Her non-profit supports women in finding meaningful employment who have had a criminal conviction. She also works to educate employers on the benefits of hiring this population.

Stephanie walks us through her experience working with women in the Southern California prison system which led to her founding PRCS. She says most people are locked up because of drug related offenses. They are non-violence offences and many of the women she has worked with and continues to work with are mothers and have families. Harvard Business Review recently published a case study surrounding our U.S. military who began enlisting soldiers with criminal convictions. The soldiers as part of the program were better performers and were promoted more quickly than their criminal record free counterparts.

Studies like the one referenced above are short in supply which is why Stephanie is creating a grassroots education movement in Southern California. She is sitting down with business owners, leaders, hiring managers and HR professionals talking with them individually to dispel those myths.

Can Ban the Box Eliminate Bias Against Candidates with Criminal Convictions?

Stephanie talks us through Ban the Box which eliminates the criminal conviction question on the job application. While not a comprehensive solution, Stephanie says Ban the Box is a starting point for discussion around hiring candidates with criminal records. It provides her and other advocates like her more opportunities to facilitate discussion and help dispel those myths.

Stephanie shares insights into the EEOC’s recent guidance regarding criminal convictions. A link is included in the resource section below. She says disparate impact claims and convictions could unnecessary hurt the hiring process. Employers must show that disqualifying someone with a criminal history really impacts the business. The guidance while not enforceable is another reason for employers to re-evaluate their current hiring efforts and criminal background check processes and balances.

Stephanie walks us through some tax benefits employers might not be aware of. WOTC is an opportunity for employers to receive a tax credit for those with criminal histories and those who have been on unemployment. The WOTC process for employers is a little complex and she recommends contacting someone at your state agency and accountant to work out a plan and process. Bonds4Jobs is federal program that provides six months of compensation for employers. Take a listen to the podcast to hear more resources Stephanie suggests for employers.

Advice for Candidates with Criminal Histories

When it comes to job seekers, a criminal history makes your job search challenging but it is possible to find work opportunities. Stephanie says that if you do have a criminal conviction and are trying to get back on your feet, you should connect with your local services. It is on the individual to build a support network and follow up with those resources. Work with the resources provided to you. Build relationships and have a clear goal and career plan in mind.

Connected with Stephanie Hammerwold on LinkedIn.


  • PRCSA ~ Stephanie’s non-profit
  • Help Wanted Podcast ~ Referenced by Stephanie on the military’s experience with hiring those with criminal convictions


*A special thank you to my production team at Total Picture Radio.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Vinay Johar says

    Always curious to read your articles, Jessica! And This time, you just rock it. With this stuff, employers may or may not ask job seekers about their criminal record, at least they should describe their record, and what rights you have to be free of job discrimination because of your record.


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